We’ve been talking a lot about elections and candidates lately here at the Basket blog. The universal refrain is dismay at the candidates who have put themselves forward for president. Ugh … her. Ugh … him. Ugh … them.
But lately I’ve been thinking that we need to adjust our thinking. Is it the candidates that should dismay us? Or is it the people who are going to elect one of these dismay-worthy people?
I have been teaching Herodotus’s Histories of late. Herodotus earned the sobriquet “Father of History” by writing the first Western history book. He recorded the heroic deeds of the Greeks as they fought off the Persians in 490-479 B.C. Boy, can we learn a lot by going back to 5th century Greece. Herodotus, lover of all things tangential, constantly veers away from his main purpose of telling the story of the Persian Wars and tells tales from the many places he visited. One of those tales early in the work is that of Cyrus the Great, founder of the Persian empire. Cyrus was a Persian whose grandfather happened to be the reigning Median emperor. Cyrus led an uprising against his grandfather that succeeded and established him as one of history’s great empire builders. He won over his people’s loyalty in a manner worthy of modern American presidential politics.
He called the Persians to gather at a certain field with their reaping hooks. He set them to work from dawn till dusk, driving them to their labor. Then the next day he had them set aside their reaping hooks and sleep and lie about all day. Then on the third day he called them together and asked which day they enjoyed the most. They answered that they enjoyed the second day far more than the first. Cyrus promised that if they will but go with him to take over the Median throne (no small task), then every day would be like that day of lying about. The people, hungry for luxury, agreed and marched with Cyrus to defeat the Medes.
Now, you can’t fault Cyrus for giving the people what they wanted. You most certainly can fault the ancient Persians for loving luxury and laziness.
My point is that these presidential candidates (sinners though they are) are exactly what the American people deserve. Hosea said, “Like people, like priest.” We can say, in our peculiar system of representative democracy, “Like electorate, like candidate.” These presidential candidates are popular precisely because they are giving the electorate what they want. The candidates are a mirror of our people. And this is our people.
And all of this goes to show that the real point of the election for us Christians, who are eager for the kingdom to come and make elections superfluous, is not to get the right candidates into place. No, we need to be concerned to get the right people into the electorate who will be drawn to the right kinds of candidates. And that places our hope squarely in the gospel, the preached Word, the font and table, the love of Christ incarnated in neighborhoods and living rooms, the education of children for Christ, the pressing of biblical justice in the public square with those who decide justice every day.
The contemporary Cyrus is promising the people what they want and the people are promising to go with him to fight his battles. Let’s put the reaping hooks back into the people’s hands so that they will want the right kind of life and the right kind of candidates. And then our children can continue the fight after us. And their children after them, if the handbasket has not been fully delivered by then.