Sometime this year or next, the 13th Malaysian general election will be called. I will then make plans to be in Petaling Jaya on voting day where I will vote in Kelana Jaya. I consider it my Christian duty. I have learnt however that many young Malaysians, Christians included, have not even bothered to register as voters. Not quite sure about the reasons behind this apathy. Aren’t the young supposed to be idealistic? For the first time since independence we have the promise of some real change. This is a great time for idealism, and for Christians, a key time to be involved because of biblical ideals.
Some Christians wonder if it really is a Christian duty to vote. After all there are no explicit directions to vote in the bible. And aren’t we committed to seeing society changed through seeing individuals changed by the gospel? Such folks may see any political involvement as a distraction from the church’s duty to preach the gospel. So why should Christians vote? Well a lot depends on what you believe a government is for. Reflecting on Romans 13 and other passages, Stephen Charles Mott writes:
In the Bible, the government, more than any other human agency, is given responsibility for justice. The first task of government is to ensure the good of every person.
God has given specific powers to individuals and institutions within society, which serve as instruments of God’s sovereignty for the benefit of human life and as barriers against tyranny, chaos, and disorder. One of these agents of power to which special authority is given is the government. (Biblical Ethics and Social Change, New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1982, 192.)
Mott does go on to point out that a government only has legitimacy when it is carrying out its God assigned mandate:
The state, when it is obedient to God, advances the welfare of its citizens through laws which contribute to “freedom and brotherhood”, if the state is disobedient, it voids its God-given responsibility and threatens the welfare of its citizens. (Biblical Ethics and Social Change, 193.)
The Lord’s model prayer includes a line that reminds followers of Jesus that they should desire God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10b). Therefore, if I have an opportunity to contribute to a process that can help bring in a government that more approximates God’s ideal for government, I should play my part.
I am under no illusions that any human government this side of heaven will be free of problems. Indeed, the fact that human governments constantly fail us reminds me that the perfect government awaits the return of the King to usher in the new heaven and the new earth. It is precisely because I know up-front that no earthly government will be perfect that I am freed from cynicism, and this allows me to do what I can. Often, this means that in choosing between two candidates, I am choosing the lesser of two evils. But this too needs to be done. We need to curtail evil as well as promote good. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is right when he reminds us that “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” We fool ourselves if we think that we are always right and the other side is always wrong. All things being equal, in a particular choice, I must try to discern which candidate is a little bit closer to the side of the angels.
It is precisely because I know that only Jesus can usher in the perfect government that I continue to share the good news of the kingdom. True change will only come when sinners are transformed by the gospel. No human leader can bring this about. But as representatives of the in breaking kingdom of God, Christians are to live by kingdom values in every sphere of life. And this includes coming out to vote. Singaporeans are excited by the upcoming general election because this is the first time that many will get to vote as this is the first time that many if not all the seats will be contested. My Malaysian friends should come out to vote in the upcoming Sarawak election and the general election that is to follow. We are called to salt and light the world (Matthew 5:13-16).
Is there anything else we can do besides vote? Some of us will be called to stand for office. The church ought to help potential candidates who are followers of Jesus, discern if indeed the Lord is calling them to offer themselves for public office. We should also pray for those who do so and encourage them in whatever way we can. Here, Christians may find themselves on different sides of the political divide. Our common allegiance to Jesus means we must not give in to the politics of hatred and ridicule. We must love our brothers and sisters even if we disagree with their political convictions.
There is something else we can do. We can pray. As Daniel discovered, God hears our prayers even if the nature and the timing of the answers may surprise us (Daniel 10). Election times are times when God’s people can storm the heavens, with prayers for good and right to triumph. Whatever the outcome we know that our prayers are taken up into the perfect sovereign workings of God.
Election times are exciting times. Emotions will run high. There will be a lot of noise. Followers of Jesus need to be quiet to hear what the Lord is saying to us. We must not surrender our commitment to evangelism. Some of us will be called to stand for public office. We must prayerfully consider the candidates who are standing for office and come out to vote. And we must pray.