There is a reading that is a good reminder to all of us about the dangers of politics; it comes from First Samuel.
All the elders of Israel came in a body to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Now that you are old, and your sons do not follow your example, appoint a king over us, as other nations have, to judge us.”
Samuel was displeased when they asked for a king to judge them. He prayed to the LORD, however, who said in answer: “Grant the people’s every request. It is not you they reject, they are rejecting me as their king.”
Samuel delivered the message of the LORD in full to those who were asking him for a king. He told them: “The rights of the king who will rule you will be as follows: He will take your sons and assign them to his chariots and horses, and they will run before his chariot. He will also appoint from among them his commanders of groups of a thousand and of a hundred soldiers. He will set them to do his plowing and his harvesting, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will use your daughters as ointment makers, as cooks, and as bakers. He will take the best of your fields, vineyards, and olive groves, and give them to his officials. He will tithe your crops and your vineyards, and give the revenue to his eunuchs and his slaves. He will take your male and female servants, as well as your best oxen and your asses, and use them to do his work. He will tithe your flocks and you yourselves will become his slaves. When this takes place, you will complain against the king whom you have chosen,
but on that day the LORD will not answer you.”
The people, however, refused to listen to Samuel’s warning and said, “Not so! There must be a king over us. We too must be like other nations, with a king to rule us and to lead us in warfare and fight our battles.”
When Samuel had listened to all the people had to say, he repeated it to the LORD, who then said to him, “Grant their request and appoint a king to rule them.”
The problem here, of course, is that Israel had a king – God – and yet they somehow thought that they would do better with a human king. Instead of rejoicing in having the only king truly fit for the job, the elders of Israel demanded a human king. Instead of living in the freedom God offers and with the virtue and responsibility that God demands, Israel instead sought a human king to rule them and to lead them and to fight their battles.
Even in the face of the warnings of what such a king would bring, still the elders of Israel put their faith in man instead of in God. We know, of course, that the warnings, dire though they were, became fact; all that of which Samuel warned Israel would happen came to pass. History teaches that it always works out that way; empires are motivated by human desires, and so empires rise and empires fall. The Golden Age of Man is myth; since the Fall of our first parents, there has been no Golden Age, nor can there ever be.
Samuel’s words should be a warning today just as surely as they were a warning when he spoke them. We should all remember – regardless of political affiliation – that no government is perfect. We should all constantly demand better from the governments that rule us; we should hold them to the highest of standards not because we think they can achieve those standards, but we know that they can do better than they are doing right now. We should hold ourselves to this same standard of growth and constantly demand better from ourselves, too; otherwise, we will become hypocrites – our demands will be empty and our criticisms hollow.
It has been famously remarked that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those others that have been tried. Churchill was almost right about this; instead, perhaps he should have remarked that democracy is the worst form of human government, except for all those others that have been tried. Still, in this country, democracy, or at least a representative republic has taken us far. It should take us farther; it must take us farther.
Regardless of political affiliation, there is no sin in not being satisfied with your government… unless, perhaps, you were one of the elders of Israel demanding a human king in place of the Divine King. Every person should be vocal when he is displeased with the government – especially when he is displeased with those elected officials for whom he voted. We should all heed the warning of Samuel and remember that no human government can possibly be perfect, nor is it sacred; government will only grow in the order of perfection when such is demanded of it by its citizens.
It has also been famously remarked that in democracy people get the government that they deserve. This should serve as a warning just as clearly as Samuel’s words do; if a government will only grow in the order of perfection when such is demanded of it by its citizens, then certainly the citizens can only be in a position to demand such when they themselves are growing in the order of perfection. Without virtue, democracy will fail.