The Vanity of Politics

Politics is a great leveler.

Vanity Fare (6)

Woe to you, O land, when your king is a child,
And your princes feast in the morning!
are you, O land, when your king is the son of nobles,
And your princes feast at the proper time—
For strength and not for drunkenness!
Ecclesiastes 10.16, 17

A great leveler
Lord Acton asserted that power tends to corrupt. More accurately, we should say that political power tends to bring out the natural corruption lurking within each of us. And, since in this country at least, every citizen has a role in the political process, it’s not surprising that shading the truth, serving our own interests, vilifying opponents, fostering social polarization, and pausing the neighbor-love button attach to all participants in political activity.

For over a generation now, many Christians have believed that their freedoms and flourishing depend on getting the right people in office. Believers have made political agendas a more constant and public focus than seeking the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. As a result, we are routinely disappointed, embarrassed, and embittered by the outcomes our investment has achieved.

Which is to say, very little.

Allegations of moral compromise and outrage on the part of those in public office are as predictable as the seasons, and this leaves many people angry, disillusioned, and demanding someone’s head. Lately, Christians have been willing to overlook the moral failings of certain politicians and public officials, preferring to ignore or excuse the dalliances and dumbnesses of those who favor their agenda, while denouncing and damning those who do not. In this regard, we’re pretty much like everyone else.

Politics is thus a great leveler: It brings out the corruption in all of us. Solomon saw this long ago.

Sordid business
Most people in our secular society do not hold politicians in very high regard. I suspect this is because they don’t see them as noble, selfless, and committed only to the public weal – which is how we tend to see ourselves. We consider politicians as a necessary evil – smooth-talking, truth-twisting, high profile, self-serving bottom-dwellers who exist on a diet of pork, power, and photo ops, and who could care less about the real needs of ordinary people.

Politics is sordid business, but somebody has to do it. And, in our secular age, most people look to politics more than any other source to provide cures for everything that ails us. Deep inside, however, they know that this, too, is just one more course in the vanity fare served up by our secular age.

Politics deals in power, the power to run other people’s lives to your advantage and that of your friends. It’s sadly natural that, knowing this, people will try to secure as much as possible of the available power for themselves and their agenda. Yet I suspect the most common affection associated with the political process is not exhilaration, but disappointment. All the bluster, pandering, finger-crossing, blaming and denouncing, and other forms of hot air associated with the political process make it truly a feeding on the wind.

Nevertheless, every new political season finds more people involved in the process, more polarization along more spectrums, more lies and false promises, more money raised and wasted, and more hopes dashed.

Solomon on politics
Solomon advises us to be careful around politicians. They can become fools who listen to no one’s advice but their own (Eccl. 4.19). Instead of administering justice, they wink and nod and look the other way as injustice prevails to their advantage (3.16; 5.8; 8.11).

In a society where people live only “under the sun,” no absolute law exists to guide politicians in whatever they choose to do. They become a law unto themselves, making decisions based on what they think is in their own best interest, and insisting the Constitution justifies their actions (8.2-5).

One must be careful, however, of what one says or does around politicians. Politicians are suspicious sorts, and they have ways of finding out those who wish them ill, and of getting to them first (10.20).

In a secular society, government is the highest level of power anyone can envision or achieve; but governments are comprised of sinful, self-seeking, frustrated, discontented people, who just can’t seem to find a way to know real meaning and peace in life. If the most we can hope for in our lives is a government that will provide a just, fair, and open society, where every person is free to pursue his or her own sense of the meaning of life, then we’re going to be disappointed.

Even King Solomon, who began so nobly, wanting only to serve the nation of Israel with the wisdom of God (1 Kgs. 3.3-9), ended up using his power to line his pockets and indulge his every fleshly desire (2.1-10). A secular worldview is not capable of producing any higher form of life than this.

So it’s natural that politics and government should be for many of our neighbors a source of irritation, frustration, anger, confusion, and cynicism. If we understand this about our times, we will avoid regarding politics more highly than we should, and keep our focus on and trust in higher powers for the full and abundant life we and our neighbors seek.

For reflection
1.  Why do you suppose people so readily gravitate to politics to solve social, moral, and economic problems?

2.  Meditate on Romans 13.1-5. There is a role for politics and government in human life. But what qualifier did Paul set to guide us in thinking about and participating in that role? What does that mean?

3.  Understanding that politics is a “great leveler,” how can we talk about politics, and use political conversations in our calling to the Kingdom and glory of God (1 Thess. 2.12)?

Next steps – Conversation: What do your non-Christian friends or co-workers expect of politics? What hopes do they pin on the political process? How do they feel about politics? Ask a few.

T. M. Moore

For a more complete study of the book of Ecclesiastes, download our Scriptorium series on Ecclesiastes by clicking here. Ecclesiastes is an excellent book to share with an unbelieving friend, as it confronts all the idols and vain hopes of unbelief, exposing their folly and holding out the hope of life in God alone. We’ve prepared a verse translation of Ecclesiastes which is suitable for sharing with believers and unbelievers alike. Order your copy of Comparatio, by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT. 

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