January 26 2020 – Events in your city/town on or before #Jan26
Richard R Glover reflects on voting through the lens of faith, love, and hope, helping us to come to terms with the perplexity and disappointment of voting.
With less than a week to go until we hit the ballot boxes, many of you will probably have made a decision about how you’ll vote. You probably don’t feel very good about it.
Voting is a complex business. We find ourselves faced with competing concerns—environmental justice, the moral health of our community, recompense for our First Peoples, compassion for those seeking asylum, a longing for corruption-free politics. We can’t have them all; there is no party that will satisfy on all counts.
But decide we must. God has placed us in a liberal democracy. Our system of government would have been unimaginable to the writers of the New Testament. Nevertheless, we must ‘conduct ourselves as good citizens in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ’ (Philippians 1.27), which means taking our vote seriously as an opportunity to love our neighbours.
Even having made a decision we may experience the sinking feeling that you still have reservations. You haven’t been able to adequately account for every concern. The candidate you’ve decided to vote for is good on some issues, but rubbish on others. For this reason it has often been said that voting is always an exercise in “holding one’s nose”; we will never vote for someone who doesn’t, on one issue or another, stink. Given this rather depressing truth, how can we vote with any confidence? How can we vote with a clear conscience?
The key to entering the polling place with confidence is to recognise that casting a ballot is an exercise in three key Christian virtues, each one key to New Testament thinking about living well: faith, love, and hope (1 Thessalonians 1.3; 5.8; 1 Corinthians 13.13; Colossians 1.4–5).
Being a Christian means putting our faith in Jesus Christ for everything—including our participation in our civic responsibilities. Faith is a kind of perception; it’s seeing reality clearly—the relationships between God, his world, and ourselves. By faith we are justified: enabled to live rightly and act meaningfully in God’s world on the ground of Christ’s work and by the Spirit. Faith gives us self-awareness, enabling us to see ourselves as creatures and God as Creator, and so to act rightly toward him.
This means two things for our voting. Firstly, our exercise of our civil duties must be an expression of our dependence on the Creator. It’s his world, and he is the only one able to bring to fulfillment his purposes for it. That should take some of the pressure off: neither our individual vote nor our corporate decision can derail God’s purposes for his world. We can be confident that God has all things in hand.
Secondly, the self-awareness of faith gives us the grounds for meaningful decisions about our vote. As God’s creatures, renewed in the image of his Son, our task is to use our vote to express something of the way in which he has made the world. As we consider and reflect upon what God has revealed to us in the Scriptures, and supremely in the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, we have a firm foundation upon which to determine what our concerns might be and how best to juggle them.
Faith confirms that we have a genuine decision when we vote, one among many such decisions that God expects us to wrestle with. But by faith we also understand our creaturely limitations and our need for God’s saving work and ongoing forgiveness. We can therefore make our determination, cast our vote, and prayerfully commend it to God in faith, trusting him to work with our decision in all its strengths and weaknesses. And when our consciences are uneasy about the decision we have made, we can cast ourselves on the grace of our Creator in faithful repentance.
Faith is active in love. With a new perspective on God, his world, and ourselves, enabling us to make meaningful decisions that come together to build a life pleasing to God, the shape of truly human life is revealed to us as love. So, therefore, both Jesus and the Apostles can sum up the law as love for God and love for neighbour. Love in these directions—upward to God and outward to our neighbours, human and non-human alike—becomes the boundary and programme for all that we do, individually and in community. For secular governments, this active concern for God and neighbour takes the form of justice (Romans 13.1–10; 1 Peter 2.13–17).
This means two things for our voting. Firstly, our vote—one small part of a life of love—is faithful when it is exercised in love for God and others. In seeking to promote, establish, and maintain justice in human affairs, we fulfill God’s law of love, which ‘does no harm to its neighbour’ (Romans 13.10).
Secondly, though the presence of sin and evil in a world not yet finally restored means that our love can never be realized perfectly this side of the Lord’s return. Even when we vote with faith and in love, seeking the common good and justice for the vulnerable with our vote, no candidate will adequately account for all our concerns for our neighbours. Love remains imperfect until the time when we will know fully (1 Corinthians 13.12). Far from being a cause for anxiety, the imperfection of our voting is to be expected. So long as we have prayerfully sought the good of our neighbours in love we can be confident that we have exercised our civic duty in a Godly fashion—no matter how partial it might seem.
The loving shape of our active faith in voting points forward to God’s purposes for his creation in hope. Our concerns as we vote express our yearning for the world to be different: to be remade and renewed, to become a place ‘where justice is at home’ (2 Peter 3.13). The task given to civil authorities until the Lord’s return is an approximation of the justice to come; we await the full reality. Even in the remarkable political system we call liberal democracy this approximation is all we can hope for. But the Lord Jesus Christ, risen and reigning, shows us what perfect justice looks like and enables us to stretch out toward it in the present. Political authority is given to provide an approximation of justice, and true justice likewise comes through political authority: the authority of the risen and reigning Lord Jesus Christ.
This is expressed in Paul’s pithy summary of the gospel in 2 Timothy 2.8: ‘Remember Jesus Christ—raised from the dead, descended from David—this is my gospel’. It’s a sentence loaded with meaning. Jesus’ resurrection shows that he is the promised king in David’s line: the Christ-king through whom God had promised to bring about his universal and eternal reign of justice. Our hope for justice is sustained by the faith that Jesus lives.
It’s a helpful mantra for us to take into the voting booth. Whatever gains are made for justice, however small, are hopeful signs pointing toward the perfect justice to come. Such hope isn’t wishful thinking; it’s a firm conviction that perfect justice will indeed come to pass when the King of kings returns. We vote acknowledging that a change in Prime Minister won’t achieve perfect justice, but certain that the one who sits on the throne can and will. In a world that is always willing to trade justice for political expediency, our vote is an act of hopeful witness to the reality to come. Though we have reservations about those for whom we vote we hope for signs of God’s perfect justice, even now.
The gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ—crucified, risen, reigning, and returning—flows out in faith, love, and hope.
These three mean we can vote without despairing about the inevitable inadequacies of the result; without being paralysed by the ineffectiveness of our civil authorities and the intractable injustices of human hearts; without anxiety about our inability to come to a decision without reservations.
Instead, we can be confident that God is at work by his Spirit in his world even now, and that he will complete his just purposes when his Son returns. Voting is a privilege of living in a liberal democratic society—a privilege given by God to be exercised with seriousness. It’s an opportunity to take part, however imperfectly, in faithfully, lovingly, and hopefully encouraging the world that he loves toward the justice that he intends for it.
On July 2, vote boldly for the justice of God, entrusting to him our loving care for our neighbours in the sure hope of the world to come.
Richard is a student at Moore Theological College. He is married to Alison, and has degrees in history and political economy. He still hasn't quite worked out how he's going to vote on Saturday!
 What follows is taking the insight of Oliver O’Donovan about this framework and applying it to the act of voting. See Self, World, and Time, Ethics as Theology, vol. 1 (Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2013), pp. 97–100.