The calling of the general election definitely caught me on the hop and the thoughts I had hoped to explore now would be out of place. As governments extend themselves into ever more intimate and personal aspects of our lives, so more and more aspects of our lives have become political. Yet Jesus had a fairly clear view of these things in asserting that there were things that Caesar could claim as his due – “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” and things that clearly were not – “and to God the things that are God’s.” For us the matter is complicated by the general state of agnosticism in the country as a whole, so that there is no consensus on what is God’s proper province and what is not. And the temptation is to move into ever more of the areas which are of God’s province.
In ancient Israel, the story of the patriarchs and the Exodus were the background to the 10 commandments which together became the basis for the life and the self-understanding of the people of Israel. Israel was a community of blood ties cemented by its religious heritage and affiliation. The 10 commandments and the law served to cement in place what had already been established by blood kinship and under the mighty hand of God, and the rest of the Old Testament is the story of how this worked out in practise in the life of the following generations of Israelites.
Indeed, as the Messiah, Jesus came to fulfil the expectations of a coming king like King David. This clearly was a political vision, but even the prophets were looking beyond the superficial exercises of power to deliverance from a far deeper kind of enslavement. It is there in Isaiah’s Suffering Servant poems, and is most explicit in chapter 53: “Despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid our faces from Him. He was despised and we esteemed Him not. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. Yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted. He was wounded for our transgressions…” (vv3-5) Leaders may wish to control the effects and the manifestations of sin, but they can never address its sources or strip it of its power.
Perhaps it is for us to reclaim control of our own expectations and to resubmit to God the things which were always under His direction. The personal motivations that drive us, the expectations that we have of one another and the obligations that we have to one another are clearly within this area. So even more so, is the nature and sincerity of our worship and spiritual loyalty. Yet God has established order so that human affairs may be ‘Godly and quietly governed.’ If this is the case then the state is not an end in itself but a means by which God may be served and by which peace may be maintained on our borders and in our streets.
Connected to this must be our freedom to worship. While Christians in oppressive societies have sought to obey the law, faithful Christians have also defied those authorities which have tried to control or even ban their meeting together and their worship. Yet they have done so accepting that they may have to face penalties and not demanding freedom of worship as a right. Rather we worship freely in gratitude that we may still do so. Most regimes are not threatened by this freedom of worship and it is those that do feel threatened that seek to control or even ban it.
Perhaps it is in the prayer book that we find the most clearly directed prayers for our leaders: that the Queen (and her ministers) may “incline to thy will and walk in thy way”, that the efforts of her ministers should be “that peace and happiness, truth and justice, religion and piety may be established among us …”; that the ministers of the crown may be endued with “grace, wisdom and understanding”. Our liturgies pray for “integrity in all their dealings”, that our leaders may “acknowledge your power” and we may be “godly and quietly governed.”
Perhaps most of all, we should be praying for all engaged in this election, including and perhaps especially, those with whom we disagree.