“Many solicit a ruler’s favor, but judgment for a person comes from God.” Proverbs 29:26
In this last of three Proverbs-based reflections on our society’s problems, I want to focus briefly on our role and responsibility in the world of politics.
First, let’s look at the surface meaning of the verse. We do often turn to powerful officials with requests. Sometimes we seek a favorable legal judgment. Sometimes we seek a favor or an appointment. And sometimes we seek action that squares with our view of how government ought to act, based on our values.
There’s nothing wrong with our petitioning government officials in any of these ways. In fact, often, we’re bound to.
The issue here, fundamentally, is whether our soliciting the ruler’s favor is in sync with God’s expectations. This is so because, for religious people, it is by God’s standards that we are judged in all we do.
Well, then, how do we know what God’s expectations are for us?
People of faith begin with the idea that we get significant direction from God’s words in the Bible. We get further guidance from sages and wise people who have lived, studied, and written about the meaning of these words. Finally, we get instruction from Proverbs and other texts on the ways we can teach and learn the wisdom that helps us in the knowing.
This business of knowing what’s right to do isn’t easy. Sometimes we have to act so quickly we don’t have much time to think about it. But, generally, we have time before we act, to deliberate and come to understand the wisdom upon which we can base action.
A friend of mine lovingly accused me recently of instinctively urging a “rush to learn” before one starts up a “rush to act.” I plead guilty to that.
Now, what does all this have to do with politics?
Let’s begin, illustratively, with observations I’ve made in recent days about certain unfortunate ways in which the sensitive political matter of immigration has been handled.
Folks from both sides 1) have selectively pulled quotes from the Bible, mostly out of context, to justify their own political viewpoints; 2) have looked at pictures and news stories, sometimes fake, and developed full judgment about what’s right and wrong; 3) have come to black or white, one-sided views that cast the other side as unworthy, even evil; and 4) have either assigned total blame to the other side or grotesquely likened them to the most awful characters in history, such as Hitler and the Nazis.
Where’s the resort in any of this to the Bible’s truths, which, as in Proverbs, are usually complex and multi-dimensional? If the partisans had actually given it an objective look, they would have found a call BOTH to “love the stranger” AND to expect the stranger to live in accord with the community’s rules and laws. Wow. There might actually be some evidence here of the basis for God’s judgment and a path forward for us. But, since the answer is difficult and not fully in tune with any ideology, sadly, I’m guessing few will be interested.
What happened to following Proverbs’ instruction to work diligently to find guiding wisdom? “Heck,” some will say, “I can’t wait to study the issue. I’ve seen a horrible photo, and the time for a righteous statement on social media is NOW. Plus, I already know what’s right!”
And, what happened to the love and respect we’re supposed to show our fellow citizens in political dealings? When one side blames the other entirely for the problem, and the other side compares the one to Hitler, how can the God who has called us “to love your neighbor as yourself” do anything but cringe?
We can be involved in politics; indeed we should be. We should seek what is good and right from government. But, we must do so, willing to take on the demanding work of solving our problems in a just and compassionate manner. We must, also, do so with respect and equanimity for others in the process, including our political opponents.
For it will be then, and only then, as the Proverb teaches, that we will sense God’s favorable judgment and blessing.