This article is a summons to vote on Tuesday, November 2, though you may be disillusioned by both presidential candidates. It is good to be dis-illusioned if the illusion is that Bush or Kerry are all they claim to be. The oversimplified positions, the cock-sure demeanor, the overweening self-assurance that these candidates display in their speeches is not what I look for in a great statesman.
There is another vision for how to lead a country. There is a kind of greatness that is possible among fallen men who know the weight of the world and how fragile humanity is. There is a seriousness that mingles humility and strength. There is a greatness that combines complexity and decisiveness. There is a moral bearing that embraces the limitations of fallibility without abdicating the responsibility of life-and-death decisions. There is a public submission to the Creator and Governor of the universe that produces a pervasive and public spirit that no mere man has the last word.
There is a statesmanship that expresses deep and humble hope that one may, under God, be of great use to one’s country. And this earnest hope, and readiness to lay down one’s life to pursue it, would inspire more confidence than the groundless assertions that the future will be as one says it will be. The promise of fallible sacrifice in the pursuit of a (merely) possible dream is more noble than the self-confident assertions of fallible fortune tellers. There is a diffidence in the face of the magnitude of leadership that signifies wisdom not weakness. In other words, there is another way for statesmen to think and to speak than we are hearing in these days.
If you would like to hear a taste of what I mean, listen to this excerpt from Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address from Saturday, March 4, 1865. The horrific war had dragged on longer than anyone dreamed or feared. Compare the demeanor of Lincoln with the self-assured demeanor of either of our presidential candidates.
Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
Now, if you are dissatisfied today the way I am, why vote? The answer is that if you don’t, you are guilty of the very oversimplification you condemn. There is no escape from responsibility by pointing out the imperfections of leaders. That is the only kind of leaders there will ever be. Our calling in this world is not to wait for the arrival of the perfect, but to pick our way through the thicket of flaws. We would be arrogant to put ourselves above this fray and say, “A curse on both your houses.”
The Lord Jesus does not give us this luxury of disengagement. He says, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). Caesar—even pagan Caesar—has his claim on our lives. Why? Because God Almighty, whom we serve above all men, made human governments his way of running the world. “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1). In a democratic republic like ours that means at least: VOTE.
God has commanded us (as aliens and exiles on the earth): “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7). We are citizens of two kingdoms: the kingdom of God, our ultimate allegiance, and the kingdom of this world. The ambiguities are many. The complexities are great. The possibility of political miscalculation is real. But Christ came into the world to save sinners. Therefore we do not panic at the possibility of error. It is worse to run than to risk. Only a fool replaces the complexity of voting with the simplicity of gloating.