The General Election and VE Day: what's the link?
Two apparently unrelated events have featured largely in the news over the last week: the General Election and the VE Day celebrations. Seventy years apart, they may at first sight seem unconnected, yet there is a link between them. A co-incidence of timing meant that two of the three main political leaders gathered at the cenotaph were performing their last duty as leaders, faced with the immeasurably greater loss as the country remembered those who had fallen in the Second World War.
Commentators have noted that the turnout for the vote is lower than many would like. Indeed the proportion of the electorate voting has fallen significantly over the years (for the UK as a whole, 83.9% in 1950: compared with 66.1% in 20151).
For many, the freedom that allows people to choose their own government would not have been possible without the sacrifices necessary to remove the scourge of Nazism from Europe. It is certainly the case that we enjoy many freedoms today which would have been unimaginable if Hitler had been allowed to achieve his goals. Indeed, many are concerned that as the years go by, and fewer and fewer of the population have direct experience of the events of the Second World War, the succeeding generation does not value the freedoms their vote symbolises.
So it is not difficult to see a connection between these two factors: no doubt a greater awareness of the costs of freedom is likely to increase the participation of those who enjoy it. But what should be the attitude of those who follow the Lord Jesus? Is it, as many would argue, a moral duty to vote as well as a privilege? Does the Bible give us any guidance on this?
From the very beginning, the Bible presents a clear distinction between those who follow God’s ways and the rest of the world. In Genesis 6 we read of the sons of God who call themselves by His Name and the daughters of men who choose to make a name for themselves. Ultimately this resulted in the flood and the destruction of an entire civilisation. The Tower of Babel was an expression of human freedom, a desire to make a statement of bold independence, putting down roots in this life now.
Abraham, on the other hand, recognised that he was a pilgrim and a stranger. Hebrews 11:9,10 describes him living in tents precisely because of this fact. He even had to buy somewhere to bury his wife. That was the only place he could have called his own - yet in reality it was simply a place to wait until God’s promises were fulfilled.
The whole of the Bible shouts to us that the faithful of God are to see themselves as foreigners just passing through the present age, migrants on their way to another land and time - the Kingdom of God. Our true home is elsewhere and we are to see ourselves as citizens of the Kingdom to come. As Paul writes, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). In relation to this Kingdom, we “are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19). This new community is drawn not only from every country but also from across time. Thus the true Christian sees himself as a temporary resident in whatever country he happens to find himself awaiting the coming to Jesus. This has certain consequences for his attitude to the world in which he lives.
Participation in electing a government of what is in effect a foreign country would not make sense. As a true believer, therefore, one cannot actively involve oneself in choosing a government for a country to which one does not ultimately belong. In addition, as we learn from Nebuchadnezzar’s experience, the Most High rules in the kingdom of men and gives it to whomsoever He will. Therefore to vote for a government which may not be in God’s purpose would could result in a vote against the one that God had chosen for his purpose. While he recognises that the government of this country is put there by God, ultimately as Peter says we must obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29).
When on trial before Pilate, Jesus, in recognising this principle said “my kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). He knew that God was the originator of any authority or power he would be given. Even though he was the Son of God, and therefore ultimately king of the world, in his life he submitted – he paid Caesar’s taxes. Significantly, he went on to say, “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight… but now is my kingdom not from here”.
So Jesus himself links these two aspects for our understanding. Jesus did not seek to participate in the politics of the world and neither did he encourage his followers to defend him when arrested. It follows that believers in each succeeding age should live by the same principles. An associated fact is that the believers who come from every country could not find themselves both at the same time as brethren and on opposing side of a war fighting in battle against each other. Yet this would have been precisely the situation of believers on either side of a battle. Equally, it would be hypocritical in the extreme to have voted in a government and then claimed to have nothing to do with the present world and refused to join the army when requested.
The follower of Jesus, in trying to reflect the way he lived his life, will stand aside from the age in which he lives. While recognising the government and being subject to its laws he will nonetheless see his ultimate allegiance as being to the Lord Jesus. He will maintain the consistency of his belief in how he lives participating neither in elected government or taking part in military service. Clearly these are just two areas of a multifaceted life in which the way of God must be shown in all things.
We are thankful for the freedoms living in our democratic country brings. We recognise these could not have been brought about without the sacrifice of those who fell in previous wars. But as Bible readers, and followers of the Lord Jesus, we respectfully stand aside both from military service as conscientious objectors, and from voting in elections. Rather, we await the coming Kingdom of God.
That day will bring a time of unparalleled peace to our troubled world, plenty for the starving millions, and righteous government from the man God has chosen to rule the world: the Lord Jesus Christ.
We cannot cast a vote for anyone else; we have already given our vote for him.
Footnote 1: Source: http://www.ukpolitical.info/Turnout45.htm