Political leaders - can you trust them?
All over the world, so many people put great faith in their political leaders to make things better.
Whether we look at the Supreme Leader of Iran or the President of the USA, there are politicians who have a forceful personality and a passionate sense of mission: they do not mind opposition and even relish it. Whether we look at the President of the European Commission or the UK Prime Minister, there are politicians who try to negotiate and achieve a consensus to promote their agenda, which may be held just as passionately.
What they all have in common is that most of their electors or supporters have confidence that politicians have power to achieve change.
John Steinbeck’s great novel ‘Grapes of Wrath’ - based in Oklahoma and California during the Great Depression of the 1930s - has a number of subplots with political themes. One of the characters, a businessman, laments “We’ll never do any good with that man in the White House!” And today there are many Christians in the USA who believe it is right to support a President with obvious moral flaws because he is likely to make ‘good decisions’ and invites Charismatic and Pentecostal pastors to meet him regularly.
What does scripture teach us? Psalm 146:2 says “Put not your trust in princes!” and Psalm 118:9 “It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes.” These are not isolated quotes or ‘proof texts.’ There is a long line of warnings in the Old Testament against compromise and acting just like the nations around. The theme of living prophetic lifestyles is picked up in the New Testament, for example in Acts 5:29 “We must obey God rather than any human authority!”
The Old and New Testament people of God are called to influence the nations with righteousness and healing, not be influenced by their idolatry and dysfunction. “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20). That has implications for how we influence: “Not by might nor by strength but by My Spirit, says the Lord” (Zech 4:6).
We can and should play our part as citizens of the country we live in. We can and should make our voice heard on issues of righteousness even when there are political implications (e.g. policies on immigration, housing, taxation or welfare).
We do not depend, however, on political lobbying to change a leader’s mind. We depend on the God who answers prayer. We honour leaders and pray blessings of wisdom and peace for them, but we do not assume they can change society for the better. Only God can change hearts and even God has chosen to respect our freedom to choose so He changes hearts when we invite Him to.
The inner transformation of individuals, households and churches will lead to the outward transformation of the communities around us. “By the blessing of the upright a city is exalted” (Prov 11:11) It is the Holy Spirit’s work in us and through us as we co-operate with Him in prayer, speaking out and acting rigteously. Nothing else can achieve it - not even the most powerful politicians.