King Canute and the Waves is a story often summarized, incorrectly, of an arrogant king with an overblown sense of power and authority, even over nature. But it was actually his followers who regarded him “lord of land and sea.” To prove them wrong, the king had his throne and courtiers set up on the beach at low tide where he would command the waves to stop.
As the water came up around their ankles, King Canute silenced their flattery by saying, “… the world should know that the power of kings is vain and trivial, and that none is worthy of the name of king but He whose command the heaven, earth and sea obey by eternal laws.”
THE POWER OF KINGS
As important and consequential as the position is, a President is not God, and a good one will understand that God is in charge. Presidents and presidential candidates have always offered themselves as the solution to the world’s biggest problems, which is Jacques Ellul’s “political illusion”, the notion that all our problems are political ones requiring political solutions. The world’s biggest problems are still here because they’re rooted in sinful human hearts, and that’s a spiritual problem needing a spiritual solution.
Our hope and salvation will never arrive on Air Force One, but has already arrived in the person of Jesus Christ, who came to offer Himself as the solution to mankind’s sin by His own death and resurrection. At the time, Israel was expecting the Messiah to be a political savior, but God had something bigger in mind.
God is not absent in the appointment of authorities (Romans 13), including our Commander-in-Chief, which is a high office—but not high enough. The government is not where my faith lies, and I have no expectation that it can ultimately save me. Intensely passionate online monologues about a president or candidate, either disdainful diatribe or high praise, often seem to indicate that some personal savior expectation has been missed or met.
This brings me to my pledge this election season. Actually, two.
While “the nations rage” (Psalm 2), and while I’m not without passionate convictions, you won’t see me lose my mind in outrage over the faults of our leaders, nor will you see me in over-the-top praise and adulation of them, whoever he or she may be. When David had an opportunity to kill rogue king Saul, he didn’t, because Saul was “the Lord’s anointed” (1 Sam. 24:5-6). May we model the same restraint in our words that David asked God for: “Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.” (Psalm 141:3). On social media, it’s tempting to let that door (via our keyboard) swing wide open at times!
I also pledge not to let political differences divide my relationships, at least as far as it depends on me. Justice Scalia once gave political rival Justice Ginsburg two dozen roses for her birthday because, in Scalia’s words, “Some things are more important than votes.” For Christians, “He Himself (Jesus) is our peace, who has made the two groups (Jews and Gentiles) one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” (Eph. 2:14). Because Christ is the true King, even political parties can be unified in what is most important. Let’s “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:3). Maybe we make an extra effort during this election.
Jesus is our sovereign King and your neighbor is God’s image-bearer. Those truths should help inform our politics and how Christians speak about politics in front of a watching and voting world.