Somewhere around 1075 B.C., a major political event occurred. A young man by the name of Saul was appointed King over Israel. Up until that point in time there had never been a King of Israel--God Himself had ruled over His chosen people. In the years that followed, many other rulers of the northern and southern tribes of Israel came and went. Some of these rulers did what was right in the eyes of God, while others did evil. Throughout this period, the Israelites enjoyed both prosperity and suffering--both of which were inexorably linked to the rulership of the day.
During this period of time there was no elected leadership, voting booths, or campaigning for office. Apart from an all-out rebellion against the current leadership in power, ordinary citizens had little or no say in the affairs of government. Today, we enjoy the luxury of many different forms of representative-style government. Nevertheless, many Christians have failed to understand--and act upon--a crucial responsibility given them by God.
Government and the Modern Church
Under the vast majority of governments that have existed throughout recorded history, ordinary citizens had one primary responsibility, namely to obey. Whether this involved sacrifice to idols or simply paying one’s taxes, governments throughout the world have imposed their will on people. In today’s world, however, more and more people have been afforded the opportunity to vote in elections that ultimately determine their country’s leadership and laws--from the local to the national level. The secular world-view promoted by many in our culture would have us believe that religious beliefs should never enter into such voting decisions. For this reason, churches and other non-profit organizations are generally prohibited from anything that remotely resembles an endorsement of a particular candidate running for political office.
Divine Sovereignty Meets Divine Responsibility
There is a simple question that must be answered by every person who claims to be a Christian: does God care about my vote?
In Romans 13:1, Paul addresses the issue of an individual’s responsibility to the government:
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. (Romans 13:1-5)
This passage, taken at face value, would seem to suggest that Christians should adopt a submissive “don’t disturb the peace” kind of attitude. Taken out of context, this passage could even be used to suggest that Christians stay out of government since “the authorities that exist have been established by God,” and not by man.
To understand a passage such as this, it’s important to understand the historical context in which it was written. During the time that Paul wrote this passage, the Roman government of the day had become increasingly hostile toward Christianity. Not until nearly four centuries later--following the barbaric slaughter of many believers in its latter years--did the Roman Empire dramatically reverse its antagonism towards Christianity. In this passage, Paul wrote to the Romans that they should submit to the ruling powers, just as Jesus did (Matthew 17:24-27, 22:15-22; cf. Mark 12:14-17, Luke 20:22-26.)
Given the context in which it was written, namely under an authoritarian rule by the Roman government of the day, it is not hard to understand the message that Paul was conveying to the church in Rome. Perhaps Paul may have felt it necessary to remind his Roman readers that true Christianity did not pose a threat to the Roman Empire. In any event, the plain truth of this passage, it would seem, is that Christians should submit to the government in power because God had instituted it.
A Divine Responsibility
In comparing the historical context of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome to our own present day, it is immediately evident that a dramatic change has occurred. No longer, it would seem, are the citizens of many modern-day countries subject to the whims of a government in which they have no say. Elected leaders have replaced the emperors of old and individuals are given the right to petition the government without fear of reprisal.
All of this, it would seem, would lead one to conclude that a divine shift in responsibility has occurred. God has graciously consented to allow ordinary people to participate in the selection of their rulership. This does not detract from God’s sovereignty, nor His divine institution of those in power. Rather, it shares out the divine responsibility for governance. God is still in charge, but now, we too are responsible.
To Whom Much is Given . . .
Having been given the amazing right under representative-style governments to participate in the election of leaders and the creation of laws, is it reasonable to think that God is ambivalent as to how we handle this divinely entrusted responsibility? The Bible teaches that “God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:14) Are we so naïve--or perhaps deceived--that we truly believe we will not someday be held accountable for how we voted?
For this reason, voting cannot be understood as merely a civic duty. To Christians, voting is a sacred and solemn duty--a divine responsibility. We should vote as though our vote was the only vote counted--as though we alone were selecting the winner. Why? Because this is how we will be judged by God.
How then should I vote?
The fact that the representative governments of today did not exist in biblical times has led some to conclude that the Bible has nothing to say as to how a given person should vote. This is precisely the message that is actively promoted by countless political campaigns and many in the media.
So how then should a Christian vote? Perhaps the best way to answer this question is with another question. When faced with a dilemma of who or what you should vote for, ask yourself how you would defend your decision to God. Face to face with the perfect, Almighty and Holy God, how would you respond to the question of, “why did you vote for him?” or “why did you vote for her?” or “why did you vote for (or against) that?”
The answers to these questions can help you prioritize what’s truly important when it comes down to a decision on a particular candidate or issue. Thinking about our decisions in terms of how we would respond to God can help expose some of our built-in tendencies to see matters from our own perspective instead of His.
Having said this, I can already hear in my mind the voices of those speaking in absurdities as to what they think is most important to God. I can hear them saying, “well you may think this is important to God, but I think . . . . ” Such nonsense can be quickly dispensed with when one comes to the realization that it doesn’t matter what I think or what you think. In the end, the only thing that matters is what God Himself truly thinks.
This should serve as a warning to those who would try to put words in God’s mouth--in particular, to those who cannot clearly support their views from Scripture.
In Genesis 3, we read about how Satan deceived humanity in the Garden of Eden by means of the serpent. This was done not by fear or vicious threats but by the gentle persuasion of fine-sounding arguments. Similarly, today we find several arguments that often arise in the context of voting that must be addressed.
Argument #1: My one vote doesn’t matter--the outcome of the election will be determined by others
In some countries, citizens separated by multiple time zones may well know the outcome of an election prior to voting. This has led to a common lament that “my one vote doesn’t matter.” While one can understand this common argument against voting by unbelievers, it is absolutely inexcusable for a Christian to take this point of view. Those who claim to be followers of Christ--the very definition of what a “Christian” is--should understand that Christ will ultimately hold us accountable for our actions and not the outcome. The Bible makes clear the expectation that Christians will unashamedly take a stand for Christ (Mark 8:38, cf. Luke 9:26); could there be any more simple and easy way to do so than through voting? To abandon this divine responsibility, believing that others will carry the burden for us is to completely miss the point. There is no reason to expect that God will overlook our apathy because an election turned out to His liking in the end. The issue isn’t the outcome--we are each responsible to God for our own individual actions.
Argument #2: My vote doesn’t matter because my views are so outnumbered
Depending on where you live, you may find that your views represent a minority in your community. It could be that for every one person who feels the way you do there are 10 others who would disagree, thus rendering your vote largely irrelevant. So what’s the point in voting? Again, it’s important to remember that we are responsible to God for our own individual actions, not the overall outcome. For this reason, we must vote regardless of the outcome. In fact, one might argue that it is even more important for the righteous to vote in elections where they are greatly outnumbered. Why? Read Genesis 18:20-33 and judge for yourself.
Argument #3: It’s my own business who or what I vote for
Today, there seems to be a new variety of thinking in the marketplace--one that, of course, isn’t really new at all. It teaches a message that God need only impact your life for a few hours on occasion, if and when you set foot in a church. The way you live your life: what you do, how you act, and so forth, is your business and you are accountable to no one except yourself. While this may be true for non-Christians, those who choose to follow Christ have automatically surrendered their right to live their life the way they choose. When a Christian steps into a voting booth or fills out a ballot, he or she is voting not as an individual but as a representative of Christ. A Christian does not vote on behalf of themselves or their family--a Christian votes on behalf of Christ.
Argument #4: I am voting for what’s best for me and my family
One of the hardest passages of Scripture is found in Luke 14:25-27. Jesus uses hyperbole to tell the crowds that our love for Him should be so great that by comparison, our love for our family and ourselves should seem like hate. These are strong words that strike at the heart of today’s “me” culture. In the context of voting, the implications of Christ’s words are profound. Many in our culture would have us believe that the most important issues surrounding a given election involve such things as the economy, taxes, jobs, health care, defense spending, and so forth. But do we really believe that any of these issues matter to God in the same way that they matter to us? The stark reality conveyed by Scripture is a sobering one--God’s priorities may well be at odds with ours. His candidate for a position may not be the best candidate from our perspective. And so we find the real question here is this--when I stand before Christ, will He be impressed with my voting record? Or will I find to my surprise and dismay that I substituted my priorities in place of His.
Argument #5: I’m not going to be a “one issue” voter
This argument says that a vote for a particular candidate or issue shouldn’t be made on solely one issue. For example, a voter may be morally opposed to abortion. Candidates who support abortion rights would say that voters shouldn’t decide their position solely on their opposition to abortion. After all, they argue, there is much more to consider in an election that just this one issue. The argument made here may seem logical. But is it biblical? Does God care more about abortion than He does about the economy? You be the judge.
A Final Warning
After all the ballots are counted and the election is over, how you voted--or whether you voted at all--may seem to matter little. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In 1 Samuel 9, the Bible describes how the Prophet Samuel was instructed by God to anoint Saul as King of Israel. From a human standpoint, Saul was certainly not the ideal choice for a King. As a result of Saul’s later sins, Israel would suffer greatly. Nevertheless, Samuel followed God’s instructions precisely and anointed Saul as King.
It is unimaginable that Samuel might have defied God and chosen to anoint someone other than God’s choice for King. Though Saul might not have seemed to be the best candidate, the only thing that mattered was that God had chosen him. Had Samuel done the unthinkable--ignoring God’s command and anointing someone else as King--he would have certainly faced the wrathful judgement of God.
Today, we as Christians find ourselves in a similar, but much more uncomfortable position. We, like Samuel, must choose who will be King. However, unlike Samuel, we do not have the benefit of an audible voice from God to tell us how to vote. This should serve as a stern warning to Christians to seek God and pray for His divine wisdom. We must seek His will for how we should vote, understanding that His priorities are the only priorities that matter.
Woe to those who choose to vote for an issue or candidate for any reason other than an overwhelming conviction that they are acting in accordance with the will of God. As servants of the Almighty, we really have no other choice. Indeed, only those who have sought the will of the Master and made a genuine effort to undertake His will can ever hope to hear Him say, “well done, good and faithful servant.”
Copyright © 2004 Tim A. Krell. All rights reserved. Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version (NIV), Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
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