barackobama_2008adsScully (to Skinner): “With all due respect, sir, I think you overestimate your position in the chain of command.”
(“The Blessing Way”, X-Files Season 3)

I have friends who think that the Democratic Party is a tool of the devil. They are terribly disturbed that Barack Obama has been elected and see him as a strong candidate for the Antichrist. Many others see him in Messianic terms. They are overjoyed that he has prevailed and see him as ushering in a bright new era for the United States. My word to both groups — get real. Obama is neither Christ nor Antichrist.

This is a historic moment in American politics and because in so many ways what happens in America affects the rest of us, it is also a historic moment for the world. The hunger for change was so overwhelming that it carried a black first term senator with a name like Barrack Hussein Obama into the White House. Not quite walking on water but close. With minimal hyperbole, Thomas Friedman calls the election of Barack Obama as the moment the American Civil war finally concluded. Those of us in Malaysia can only look on with envy and wonder when we will ever move beyond the politics of race.

And Obama has made all the right promises. His rhetoric of hope has galvanised a nation. If he can deliver on only a fraction of the things he promised, America and the world will be a better place. I am hopeful but not holding my breath. I have learned long ago, from life, and from the Scriptures, that all human leaders have clay feet and are destined to disappoint us.

1 and 2 Kings contain a record of the various kings that ruled Judah and Israel. Some were better than others. None of them could come close to the reign of King David. He was the benchmark of human leadership and he was marked by spectacular failures. God can use human leaders to bring about substantial change for good. I think of the Lincolns and the Churchills and the Sun Yat-Suns and the enormous good they did in their life times. It is very possible that Obama will be used by God to bring his nation to another level in her development. But I will not be dismayed if he doesn’t. I am not cynical, just realistic. All human leaders are flawed.

Malaysians will remember the hopes that came with the election results of March 8th, 2008. There was so much hope that Anwar would quickly usher in a new era in Malaysian politics. But he has not delivered on a number of key promises. And there are signs that some components of the opposition coalition are reverting to old ways of thinking. We need to be realistic as to what we can expect from human leaders.

I am glad March 8th happened. In many ways Malaysia has changed for the better. March 8th slowed down the march of racism and corruption that had crippled the nation for so long. But I am not surprised that Anwar and the coalition he leads could not deliver on all they had promised. Sooner or later we all learn that we must not overestimate our capacity to influence history. (Remember the promises that Abdullah Badawi made when he was running for election?)

So those who think that Barrack Obama is the Antichrist shouldn’t be too worried. There is just so much he can do. And those who think that Obama is the Messiah should lower their expectations a notch or two or ten. He was not born in a manger. (And neither was he born on Krypton and sent to save planet earth.)

All leaders running for public office must give some indication to how they can deliver. Obama has come across as honest and realistic while giving his vision of change. The level of euphoria greeting his election however, tells me that deep in the human heart, there is hunger for a Messiah. In our darkest moments we know we cannot save ourselves. But Christians should never forget that our ultimate salvation will not come form politics.

That doesn’t mean that Christians should withdraw from the political process. As Jordan Hylden reminds us in a recent article:

… Christians are called to act like Christians in the many places in the world that are not the church — in our jobs, schools, communities, and governments. Involvement in secular institutions is no substitute for the gospel, of course. But it would be a small gospel indeed that could have no effect on the way they are run. As William Wilberforce showed, such involvement can make a real difference in the word and can itself be a witness to the gospel. ( “Aliens and Citizens,” Christianity Today, November, 2008, 37)

I am delighted that many of my friends are actively involved in the political process and see their involvement as an expression of their discipleship. I am just concerned that we do not get so carried away with the euphoria of the hour that we begin to equate our battles in the political sphere as the only or the main way to bring about permanent change in society — and get unduly elated or unduly worried by the political fortunes of our chosen candidates/parties.

Our ultimate hope is still in a God who is on His throne, a God who decides which ruler rises and which ruler falls. While we work for kingdom values in all spheres of life our ultimate hope is in the King Himself, a Messiah who came and is coming again.

For the Mighty One is holy,
and he has done great things for me.
He shows mercy from generation to generation
to all who fear him.
His mighty arm has done tremendous things!
He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
He has brought down princes from their thrones
and exalted the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away with empty hands
(Luke 1:49-53 NLT)