Reformed Reflections

The Political Realm (1993-94)

Power, Humility and Politics

Lysianne Gagnon, political columnist for La Press, wrote, "Political leaders are always reluctant to give up power. Power is a drug, and political leaders from Quebec seem especially addicted to it." But power addiction is not a specialty of political leaders from Quebec. Many politicians have been influenced, often unconsciously, by Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) who claimed that the "will to power" is man's most basic drive. His hero was the Superman, tough and overbearing. The drive to stay in power at all cost is a temptation for any politician. Charles Colson, who did his utmost to keep the Nixon administration in power during the Watergate crisis, confessed, "I thought that domination on the political scene, money, and prestige would provide life's fulfillment. But the quest for power is like the dryness of a man drinking salt water. The more he drinks, the more he demands. His thirst is never quenched."

Power is not evil in itself (Rom. I3:4). Jesus recognized the legitimacy of political power (John19:11). Power can be used for the good. Political power is necessary to keep civil order. But our fallen human nature accounts for the abuse of power we so often observe. The French philosopher Montesquieu (1689 -1775) noted, "Constant experience shows us that every man invested with power is apt to abuse it, and to carry his authority as far as it will go." The proper exercise of power requires a deep sense of humility. And this can only come through surrender to God. Christian belief and Christian behaviour are intertwined. The Christian view of politics runs counter to today's conventional wisdom, which insists on success at all cost. The latter is seen as a mark of weakness. But the opposite is true. God shows favour to the humble (Prov 3:34).

A humble man knows his place before the Almighty God. He realizes that he cannot manage without Him. He is not the master of his own destiny. He neither sees himself as a rival to God nor as an independent lawmaker. He acknowledges his dependence on God. He sees himself as a servant (Luke 22:22f.). He does everything to God's glory. A Christian politician aims to walk in the footsteps of His Master, Who "humbled Himself to serve. Our Lord even put on a slave's apron and washed His disciples' feet. The final stage of His self-humiliation was His death by crucifixion (Phil 2:8). We need the politics of humility in our power hungry world. "Nothing is like humility," wrote Chrystostom, one of the church fathers. "This is mother and root and nurse, and foundation, and bond of all good things: without this we are abominable, and execrable, and polluted."

Johan D. Tangelder