Many of us are still adjusting to the second great political upheaval of the year. For some it is a time of delight and for others one of dismay.
Although there will be deeper and wiser analysis of these events, one obvious common feature of the Brexit referendum and the US presidential election is that they were not so much won by the winners as lost by the losers. They were both fundamentally protest votes; an assertive anti-establishment protest by those who feel hard done by against those in power who they hold responsible for their plight.
A second – and troubling – feature is that they were not good, clean campaigns. There was far too little truth and honesty and far too much of the soundbite, the allegation, and the subtle play on fear, hatred and greed.
So what do I as a Christian make of it all? I am reminded of the great passage in the Gospels (Matthew 22:15–22) where Jesus is asked about paying taxes to Caesar, the seemingly all-powerful and hated head of the Roman occupying power. The well-known conclusion of the account is Jesus’ statement: ‘Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.’
1. God is behind all the powers of this world
The first and most obvious point that comes from this is the reminder that behind all the powers of this world, whether Caesar, presidents, prime ministers or political parties, lies God. You may feel disturbed or even depressed at events, but be reminded that behind and above all the turbulence of our world stands our unchangeable and eternal Almighty God. His power and authority never suffers a crisis at the ballot box. These events have not surprised him.
And equally, if you feel jubilant and delighted at what you may see as your victory, allow yourself the sobering thought of the same truth. Ultimately it is God who rules and those in power are responsible to him – whether they acknowledge it or not. So let that be a great truth that either comforts or challenges.
2. Jesus grants the political system legitimate rights and duties
Both events have arisen because of the perception, if not the reality, of a remote, uncaring elite managing the affairs of a nation for the benefit of themselves. Yes, there is anger and fear in these votes, but there is also genuine pain.
It is widely felt that the sufferings of the economic disaster of 2008 were not borne fairly and universally; that globalisation, privatisation and any number of other forces have been allowed to crush little people under the heel of the powerful. And here, too, we must feel the impact of Jesus’ statement because, in making it, Jesus grants the political system of the world legitimate rights and duties.
3. Politics must not be left to politicians
It is sometimes said that a nation gets the government it deserves. That may be so but history declares loudly that unless there is a strong voice speaking out for what is good, right, just and compassionate, those virtues are all too easily pushed to one side. These events should be a great challenge: a clarion call for us to be involved in the rule of our countries in the widest, deepest and best sense. Politics is too serious a business to be left just to politicians.
Let me leave you with a final concluding thought. Remind yourself of this: the Christian faith is alive and flourishing, but where is Caesar and the Empire of Rome now?