Wednesday, July 25, 2012

responsible citizens

Every Monday morning, the admissions team meets in the green conference room for a brief Bible study and prayer, followed by updates and assignments for the week. It's a nice way to start the week, although we have (unfortunately) been stuck in 1 Samuel for months now. Don't get me wrong; it's a great book, but it's long and dense and a little slow, and when you're only reading one chapter a week it feels endless.

But this week, we read the story of David sparing Saul's life (1 Sam. 24). As we talked about it afterwards, i began to think about modern American politics.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Saul (King of Israel), was suffering what some scholars/psychologists believe to be a manic episode. He knew that David would succeed him as King, instead of his son Jonathan, and he was worried about his legacy being forgotten and his name wiped out. So he went a little crazy and began trying to kill David, who had been like a second son to him for many years (in fact, David was his son-in-law). Saul and his army were chasing David all over the country, and David was building his own little army of supporters that he met along the way.

One day, David and his men were hiding in some caves, when Saul and his troops came upon them. Not knowing that they were in the caves, Saul's men camped outside, and Saul went in to relieve himself. David's men all began urging David to kill Saul then and there, and some even offered to do it themselves. In those days, that was a perfectly legitimate way to gain a throne, and since God had already chosen David to be King, and since Saul had all but lost his mind, there would have been few objections to this course of action. But David refused to kill him. Instead, he crawled forward and cut off a corner of Saul's robe. Later, he walked out of the cave and presented himself to Saul and the army, holding up the corner of the robe. He pleads with Saul for peace, showing how easy it would have been to kill him, and reminding Saul that he had extended mercy.

David is praised for his actions (or inactions) by God, by his men, by Saul, and by the author of the book.

Imagine a similar situation with today's leaders.

Think back to 9/11, how the whole country was calling out for retribution. Think of election years (like this one). Think of one Twitter response to the Colorado shooting: calling the candidates (Romney and Obama) to stop offering mere words of encouragement and support and give us a firm plan of action for how to prevent future tragedies.

We do not allow our candidates or our leaders any breathing space before we demand a response, an action. We do not allow them to pause in respect for lives lost, to weigh options, to talk to experts and look at statistics and think. We demand a knee-jerk answer to our pain.

David lived in a theocratic monarchy. The King had to do whatever God wanted, but the people had no say in the matter, and a corrupt King could ignore God and do whatever he wanted to the people (as we'll see later in the OT).

We live in a democratic republic. Our leaders are required to listen to us, to respond to us, to give us what we ask for. They are not empowered to do otherwise: if they don't make us happy, they won't be asked to serve again and may even be asked to leave early.

Perhaps we need to be more careful about what we ask of our leaders. Perhaps we need to consider more deliberately what we want.

When we demand immediate action, we may commit ourselves to a ten-year war where thousands of lives are lost, thousands of minds and bodies damaged. Is it not good to consider carefully before declaring war? Is a delayed, deliberate, lasting action sometimes better than immediate satisfaction? When we demand immediate response, we may provoke an emotional statement that will be revised under calmer circumstances, at which point we fling accusations of flip-flopping and unreliability. Are people not allowed to change their minds? Are our leaders not allowed to grow their ideas?

In this country, citizens have power over their leaders. They work for us. I know the system is flawed, i know some politicians are corrupt, i know that things could be infinitely better. But that's the whole point of our country: things could be better. If we want better things from our leaders, we need to ask them for better things.

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