The Pilgrim’s Pensieve #20

False Messiahs

In both my country Ghana and the United States we are in an election year. Our elections happen just a couple of weeks. When it comes to international news coverage what happens in the US gets far more coverage. This is understandable because the US is the most powerful country in the world. This year however interest in the American elections has been greater than usual due to the rather unusual nature of this year’s political race.

Tensions in this political season in the US and in my own country are even more heightened than usual. This is most readily seen in the kind of rhetoric that comes from opposing parties. Reflecting on all that has been happening, it is definitely the rhetoric that has caught my attention the most. It’s not just what the politicians on the platforms say but also the language coming from the electorate. Upon all the polemics, extraordinary promises, debates and scathing criticisms, I detect a common thread in the messages given by parties at home and across the Atlantic. Basically we are told that if we vote for a particular candidate then our nation will be saved but if we vote for the other candidate the nation is doomed. Candidates are projected as Messianic figures without whom the nation and people’s place in it will be lost. I wonder to myself, is this really true?

All this talk of messiahs just draws my mind through the ages back to where the word originally came from, ancient Israel. Most people know Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah or Christ but there were about a dozen messianic claimants a century either side of the Nazarene. Contrary to what people think of the word today, the Messiah was among many things a very political term. Messiah was what the God-appointed king of Israel was called. In the Second Temple period to which Jesus belonged, Israel was under Roman occupation which was in direct contradiction to the ancient divine promises upon which nationalistic hopes hung. It was quite unsurprising that many people arose claiming to be God’s Messiah thereby calling upon the people to support them. Like 21st century political aspirants, these 1st century messianic aspirants had in some ways a similar campaign message. Supporting them was patriotic since they claimed it was only under their leadership the nation could prosper.  Failing to back them meant you did not love your own people. As it was back then, all would-be messiahs will ultimately fail except for one, God’s true king.

There is a simple reason why I believe this is true now as it was then. When we look at the history of the kings of Israel, the Bible spends only a little time on how kings attained power but devotes much more attention to what they did when they had power. There is a very relevant lesson here. What a person does when they have power is more important than how they gain it. We end dedicating so much time to scrutinizing candidates when we should be paying much more attention to what they do once they are in office. The national identity is greater than any single individual so to bank all your hopes on a person is fatally flawed no matter how “good” the candidate is. The nation will outlast any single tenure of office. Even if the individual is an autocrat he will one day die. The political rhetoric of the day is as if who we vote for is life or death.

I am not saying that who we vote for is inconsequential. Who we entrust with power is a very important decision but in the grand scheme of things it is not the most important thing. We end up appointing leaders, expecting them to just get on and do what they promised, without paying attention to what they are actually doing. Before long another term is coming to an end. We look around and to our surprise all that was promised was not accomplished.

Our leaders need to be constantly kept on their toes when they are in power. We should not only care about politics when it is election time. Politics is about the people in the nation and not the politician. Isn’t it the politician’s job to represent the interests of the people? It is therefore very crucial that we ensure those who we give the mandate are at all times doing the best thing for the nation. As history has taught us time and time again, we cannot leave the task of nation building to politicians. Also we cannot vote for a candidate based on promises which we are not willing to contribute to. Since politicians steer national development, we need to pay attention to whether they are staying the right course. If they are, we need to support the drive with our collective effort. We need to hold our leaders accountable as well as work with them if want to see our nation prosper. The national vision is greater than anyone individual can conceive or achieve.

On another level putting all our trust in a human being is something the Bible repeatedly warns against. The reason why the Bible teaches this is because humans are not only limited, they are flawed as well. We need to set our political priorities right. No politician, no matter what they say, can guarantee our prosperity. They certainly can help or hinder but they are not the ultimate deciding factor.

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