|So Help Me, God|
Caesar's Due, Part 9 (Second Sight)
The old saw makes an all-too-true point: How can you tell when a politician is lying? Are his lips moving? Americans have become increasingly cynical about their leaders.
We want to trust them, and we hope they’ll tell us the truth and keep their word. But it seems that, when push comes to shove, politicians are only interested in their own agendas.
Campaign promises go out the window in the heat of political debate, and everyone seems to care only about scoring points and enlarging their base of power. Compromise and spin become the order of the day as politicians fear nothing so much as the latest polls and work hardest at making their decisions palatable to their constituents.
Do we have a right to expect more of our political leaders? Should legislators, executives, and judges be held to a higher standard than mere pragmatism? Almost every officer-holder in the land embarks upon his service by swearing to serve the people, “So help me, God.” We should not allow them to take this invocation of the Lord’s name in a frivolous manner. If they’re going to use it, we should hold them to it.
What God requires of rulers
The Scriptures are abundantly clear on this matter. Those who take up the responsibility of governing a people in the name of the Lord must be prepared to adhere to His requirements. These are spelled out in Deuteronomy 16:18-20, where God says to those who accept the calling to rule, “They shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe...Justice and only justice, you shall follow...”
But what does this involve? What do we have a right to expect of those who agree to govern us, calling upon the help of the Lord?
When King Jehoshaphat of Judah took up the responsibility of appointing judges and rulers in the cities of the nation, he charged them solemnly with this mandate. From his words in 2 Chronicles 19:4-7, we can discern precisely what it means for rulers to govern in the help of the Lord.
Govern as unto the Lord
Jehoshaphat’s first injunction to rulers establishes the framework within which we must expect them to govern: “Consider what you do, for you judge not for man but for the LORD” (v. 6). When public officials engage their duties with the words, “So help me, God,” we must presume that they mean what they say. We have a right to expect that legislators, executives, and judges will weigh their actions before the Lord, looking to him in prayer, seeking the advice of wise and God-fearing counselors, and considering the teaching of Scripture and the precedents of God-fearing forebears.
How then can we reconcile this invocation with the resolute effort of public officials to keep “religion” out of the public square? Do they really want to govern as unto the Lord and not unto men? Are they merely submitting to some custom or tradition when they declare this invocation, silently agreeing with all who see them that it is but a trivial procedure and means nothing? If we would help our politicians to make their words matter, then we must remind them of their invocation and encourage them to practice their trust in the Lord daily, and not to give in to the pressures of lobbyists, special interest groups, or their own selfish ambition when it comes to the prosecution of that with which they have been entrusted.
Walk with the Lord
Jehoshaphat’s second admonition follows from this: “He is with you in giving judgment.” We must remind our rulers that God is concerned about every aspect of their work and their lives. He is with them to aid them in ruling the nation, and He forms the kind of person they will be as rulers in the day-to-day details of their lives.
Do we have a right, therefore, to expect of those who invoke the help of God in the performance of their civic duties that they should be people of faith? That they should take seriously such disciplines as prayer, fellowship with other believers, worship, and meditation in the Truth of God? How shall our rulers know the presence of God with them in their law-making, policy-setting, or judging capacities if they do not practice His presence with them in all their daily activities?
Here again, by prayer and continuous encouragement we should come to the aid of our public officials who have sought the help of the Lord in fulfilling the duties of their office. By reminding them of their words and pointing them to resources and people who can help them in their daily walk and in the conduct of their offices, we may be able to guide them to a richer and more meaningful experience of the presence of the Lord in their lives and work.
Fear the Lord
Jefferson once reflected with trembling on the implications of God’s justice for a wayward people such as Americans tend to be. He was right to voice such concern. Jehoshaphat insisted of those who accepted the call to public office in the name of the Lord, “Now then, let the fear of the LORD be upon you.” In the Scriptures God is clear about His attitude toward those who scorn His Law and ignore His will in the performance of their duties and the conduct of their lives. God hates sin; He hates it even more when public officials breed sin into the systems by which they govern their people. Those kings and rulers—like Jehoshaphat—who truly feared the Lord were well aware of the fact that He is no remote or disinterested deity. He watches over the affairs of men and nations and prefers His own counsel to theirs (Psalm 33:10-12).
They who call upon the name of the Lord at the inception of their public service must nurture the fear of Him as the ground for their lives and duties. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111:10). The fear of the Lord encourages a close walk with Him, nurtures deep and abiding love for Him, and leads to faithfulness in His service (Deuteronomy 10:12,13). Unless public officials fear the Lord they will not be inclined to seek Him or follow Him as He accompanies them in the fulfillment of their duties.
Be careful in all they do
Finally, Jehoshaphat instructed the rulers he appointed over the people of Judah to “be careful what you do, for there is no injustice with the LORD our God, or partiality or taking bribes.” Rulers must be expected to act in a circumspect manner, with regard for the will of God and the common weal, before they make any decisions or take any actions. They must resist every self-serving inclination or opportunity lest they fall afoul of the justice and goodness of the Lord. They must “deal courageously” (v. 11) in following the way of the Lord in all they do, trusting that He will be with those who act according to His goodness and truth and will bless both them and the people they serve.
Those who invoke the help of the Lord in taking up the call to public service should not expect to have God as their Servant, to do all their bidding whenever they may choose to consult Him. Nor must they renege on their oath in the performance of their duties; the taking of public oaths is a solemn affair, and must not be trivialized or transgressed. If our rulers want us—and the Lord—to take them seriously, then they must seek and receive the help of the Lord according to the guidelines He Himself has provided in His Word.
Are these words of advice to rulers mere talk? Are we kidding ourselves to think that we could expect our rulers to take their own words seriously? Does Caesar really owe anything to the God he invokes upon taking up the duties to which he has been called? What about separation of Church and State? Are we seeking to establish a theocracy in America? As Paul might have said, “May it never be!”
All we ask is that our politicians begin to redeem the words by which they govern us, and the work they perform on our behalf, by making their “yes” mean “yes” and their “no” mean “no.” And we want them to do so at the very beginning of their service, as well as throughout.
But many will say, “It is unreasonable to expect politicians to govern us as unto the Lord, according to their invocation. We are not a Christian nation.” I do not believe that we should not hold our public officials to their word; if we are to do so, then let us take one of two courses.
First, let us consistently and continuously remind our politicians that they are not acting in the performance of their office according to their words of invocation. Let us become like Elijah or Micaiah, who troubled the King of Israel by their constant insistence on his acting in good faith toward the God they pretended to serve. Let them deny publicly any intention of seeking the Lord in prayer, of leaning on wise and Godly counselors, or of allowing the Word or biblical precedent to inform their actions. Let them stand before us all and say, “I didn’t really mean that. It was just a formality, you know.”
Then, second, if indeed such is to be the case, let us dispense with the formality. Let legislators, presidents, and judges say what they will at their swearing in. Let us require them to declare their sources, invoke the help of particular advisors, known political philosophies, and their own best hunches.
Let them resolve in solemn oaths to look to the god of reason, or prosperity, or political advancement in all their actions. Let them be required, in other words, to tell us, right up front, what they will depend on in governing us, to whom or what they will look, and what will be the formative influences in all their actions as our leaders. And let them say clearly to what extent, if any, they intend to look to God for help at all.
For I rather suspect, given the large Christian population of this nation, and the staying power of a long tradition that—to the chagrin of many—will not go away, that any public official who would choose that course, and who would declare beforehand that he will not look to the help of the Lord in the ways we have described, would find his hopes for attaining political office severely diminished.
Is this a reasonable expectation for Christians to hold out to public officials? How might you begin to practice such expectations?
T. M. Moore is dean of the BreakPoint Centurions Program and principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. Sign up at his website to receive his daily email devotional Crosfigell, reflections on Scripture and the Celtic Christian tradition, or sign up at the Wilberforce Project to receive his daily study, ViewPoint, studies in Christian worldview living. T. M. and his wife and editor, Susie, make their home in Hamilton, Va.
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