Jesus and Democracy

No, this is not about politics. It is about a core value, democracy.

A dictionary definition: “The form of government in which political control is exercised by all the people, either directly or through their elected representatives.”

Democracy is a great idea if we are on the ‘winning/ruling’ side. When democracy manifests in a manner opposing our beliefs we want to protest and tear the system apart. Our discomfort and fear causes tinkering with election procedures and boundaries in an attempt to make the outcome we favor more feasible. Even if that means suppressing the freedoms of others in the process. We lose the moral power of democracy and trade off with legal niceties to find loopholes through which we shove our agendas. The result is a rather diseased and emaciated form of democracy festering with sores that leaves many licking their wounds, dejected, defeated, and demoralized.

Political systems reflect the state of human hearts and the thoughts of human mindsets. The endgame is power, control, and the desire to rule. Sometimes the agenda is ‘for the good of the people’. More frequently a noble election promise crumbles into a rickety plank that snaps beneath the weight of expediency and self-preservation. As history and the present day testifies, democracy (as defined) is almost impossible to sustain for long; although even when dressed in rags it remains our best option.

And what of God? Is he in favor of democracy?

The best answer I can come up with is, yes and no. No, when considering the big picture of his creation founded upon the pillars of truth, justice, love, and servanthood. They undergird everything he created and the moral integrity of life, purpose, and meaning. They are non-negotiable, not up for debate, and form the bedrock of Christian belief as revealed in the Scriptures and the person of Jesus. And in the complexity of interpretation and the application of life as we experience it we find the not-so-small-print declaring that God allows what he does not always desire.

Which leads to the yes. Because against the backdrop of the non-negotiable God also highly values choice, freedom, personal responsibility, learning through experience, and faith. Even his Ten Commandments are not intended as oppressive rules but as a yardstick against which we can measure our personal growth – as well as reflect on how much we depend upon his help to become what he intended and created us to be. He teaches through invitation, modelling through Jesus, forgiveness, empowering, grace and mercy, relationship, and setting hearts on fire with passion and conviction.

Jesus never forced anyone to do anything. He worked miracles and healed the sick as an expression of God the Father’s love. He engaged with people from every background, treating them with dignity and grace. Unlike the religious leaders of his day, he never whipped out rules from the folds of his robe to intimidate or to demand obedience. He watched a rich man walk away, Judas had the freedom to betray him, Peter failed and broke promises, the crowd chose Barabbas rather than him when Pilate presented the options. Jesus called Matthew a tax collector to be a disciple, he befriended Mary, a woman of dubious reputation. He dined with Simon, a Pharisee, conversed with Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin, and healed the servant of a Roman Centurion. Who else did he mix with?

In the democracy of Jesus’ life he refused to utilize his access to power to protect himself, or to force his will upon those who challenged him. In fact he demonstrated the greatest expression of democracy the world has ever witnessed. A servant leader/King laying down his life when the people he came to serve turned on him. God allows what he does not always desire.

The thing about us who live in this broken world is that we are often like little children grabbing for things we don’t know how to handle once we hold them. We are so easily deceived – even when convicted of our perception of truth.

A friend recently sent me an example of a street artist drawing a picture on the pavement. The artist has the amazing ability to draw in 3D to make the viewer believe that they are seeing something else. Like the picture below.

The picture above is a flat surface with people strategically placed to reinforce the illusion of reality. If a skillful street artist can conjure up an image that has us genuinely fooled, how about leaders, or a popular uprising? “Give us Barabbas! Crucify him (Jesus).”

We so often miss the real truth, or only see the partial reality right before our eyes. Look at this picture below. Most of us would walk by without a second glance. It contains the image of a skateboard. To see it you have to gaze into the picture and almost cross your eyes to see in a new way. Perspective will change and gradually the skateboard will become clear, floating. Perhaps truth is like that as well. Often we need help to see more than what we expect or are even looking for. That’s why democracy is meant to include lifelong learning – helping one another see things we might have missed on our own.

The point is that the way we relate, present, persuade, and discuss between ourselves – in the name of democracy, is a fragile, hugely valuable gift and responsibility. And the greatest test is when things don’t go our way for whatever reason. Jesus was crucified in the tension between autocracy and democracy. There was nothing democratic about Roman rule. But even under their harsh authority Pilate granted the crowd a free choice, for all the wrong reasons. Nevertheless, they received and exercised their choice. And were wrong. God didn’t send fire down or have them rounded up. Jesus died under fists shaking in unison. Fists of religious leaders, Romans, and ordinary people swept away by the moment.

Three days later, God raised Jesus from the dead. The backdrop of truth, justice, love, and mercy was thrust into the foreground for a fleeting moment in time. A demonstration of his ultimate power and grace contrasting with our flawed judgement, wrong choices, and ignorance. We can only exert our will and choices so far. Then, like every responsible and good adult, he draws a line – for our own protection.

And that’s why, I believe, we need a healthy dose of humility. Let’s burn the soapboxes, withdraw pointed fingers, soften the tone of speech, and not presume to speak for God. He is not on any one political side excluding all others. He is not offering a political solution for anything that will truly last in his kingdom.

Believers of God and disciples of Jesus should offer the world the best expression of democracy, both in victory and defeat. It takes great courage, faith, and love to live like that. Far easier to shout, be vindictive, or bully into submission with money, power, and institutional muscle. Or wrap like-minded people around you like a cloak to reinforce one another. But in God’s economy the rain falls on the good and the wicked, the wheat grows alongside the weeds – for a time. Truth and justice never sacrifice love to assure the outcome of anything. However, sometimes in the violence of backlash a cheek is turned, or a life is laid down. Freely given as a democratic choice.

“A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34)

Our democracy needs healing, reviving, and restoring. And as with most great movements – it starts with me, and you, and you, and you…

Another plug for my most recent book ‘Unaware’. If you read and enjoy please be kind enough to recommend on Amazon or Goodreads – or both. Thank you. Make a great Christmas gift.

Available at:

https://wipfandstock.com/9781666728934/unaware/

https://www.amazon.ca/Unaware-If-Only-Wed-Known/dp/1666728934/ref=sr_1_7?keywords=unaware&qid=1637565605&sr=8-7

https://www.amazon.ca/Unaware-If-Only-Wed-Known-ebook/dp/B09HY58WB7/ref=sr_1_4?keywords=unaware&qid=1637565691&s=digital-text&sr=1-4

John Cox

Christian Author and Counsellor

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