In 1 Samuel, the Israelites use the ark of the covenant in a futile effort to wield God’s power against their enemies. They’ve just fought a battle against the Philistines, with devastating losses and are desperate for a way to turn the tide. They decide to take the ark into battle, and the high priest Eli does not stop them, though he is anxious about the outcome. But when battle is joined, the Israelites are destroyed: 30,000 of their soldiers are slain, and the ark is captured by the Philistines. How could God let this happen?
I know the idea of “God is on our side” in modern wars is neither new nor unchallenged. I’ve been thinking about a different aspect of this: the difficulty of Christians in power in western democracies. It certainly is the case that Christian morals, ideals and world view do not mesh with the whole electorate. This becomes a problem for the Christian in power as he is a representative for the people, and while he can lead with his Christian beliefs, at some point these will come into conflict with the wishes of “the people.” I think there is a tendency among us to try and elect a Christian because somehow having a Christian in power will further the cause of God. Are our Christian politicians like our Ark of the Covenant being carried into the battle to capture the country for God? What is the cause of God? Does He need earthly leaders to promote it?
And what if the Ark was captured? That is, what if our Christian politicians are compromised? Either by the exercise of power itself or by the insidious nature of compromise required by our modern democratic system?
Just like the Israelites, we need to be looking at our lives. If we are seeing chaos in our society, it’s partly because we haven’t done what we ought to have done. From sexual abuse by clergy, through to divorce in the church, from the politics of the organised church through to my own lacklustre commitment: these are the things that bring down our Christian community, and not the leadership of the country. Time and time again God has shown that he works in ways that are not the world’s ways.
None of this is to say that Christian leadership is wrong, or that we shouldn’t be promoting Christian beliefs and values in our society. But neither of these things in-and-of themselves are going to bring about the change that we are seeking: that change happens in each individual’s heart, and happens only with God’s direct touch. How can a Christian politician help in God’s cause? By being a witness to those around him. By obeying God and leaving the rest up to Him.