Presidents and Messiahs

tothesource Presidents and Messiahs

Watching the frenzied debates in the midst of our very deep economic, moral, and political mess, one is led to believe that we really think the next president of the United States will be something of a messiah who will save us from somebody else’s sins. Well, I for one don’t want a president for Christmas. I want a real savior.

December 14, 2011 by Dr. Benjamin Wiker

There is a very deep tendency in human nature that when things are going very badly, we want a king to come in and magically straighten them out. That is why our presidential elections have become far, far too important. We’re treating the president as if he were our saving king, the anointed one, the messiah who saves us in the darkest hour from our enemies, and sets things to right with a few quick thrusts of his terrible swift pen.

Slashing deficits, expanding health care, cutting health care costs, dragging in the Wall Street white collar pirates in chains, boldly slashing off all the welfare chiselers, reviving the economy by reducing regulations, expanding the economy by stimulus, passing more regulations to protect workers and consumers, saving social security, reducing entitlements, reducing the military, making us safer in a world of increasing terrorism, staving off government encroachments on our personal liberty.

There is no end to our list. All of this is now expected of a president, and the president wanna-be’s are only too willing to make promises that only a messiah could fulfill. Hence, the hideously immoderate stress we put on the election of a president, a process now stretched out to the point where (like the Christmas shopping season being pushed ever earlier), no sooner do we one president in than the hopeful messiahs for the next election start queuing up.

That accounts for how we’ve misspent the last weeks of 2011 worrying about the elections in November of 2012, nearly a year hence. That’s a terrible waste of Advent, what should have been a thoughtful, holy time leading up to Christmas.

Time is not money. Not even the Federal Government can print up more time. How we spend time, or misspend it, as it flows past us tells far more about the state of our soul, of our character, of our confusions, than how we spend our money.

We’ve spent our Advent brooding about the dark state of the economy, the deficit, Wall Street, Welfare, the collapse of Europe, and everyone else’s appalling wickedness and stupidity. We’ve spent our Advent watching every move and straining to hear every utterance of the Republican messiah hopefuls, and of the current chastened Democratic messiah in the White House. We’ve spent our time immersed in the frenzy surrounding what state would host the first primary or caucus in January, and which one would really be decisive, each state jostling against the others so as to become the Bethlehem in which the long-awaited savior will be given political birth.

Well, here’s the Good News: the president will not save us. Not this president. Not the next president. Not any president.

So, if you voted for Obama, thinking he was the long-awaited messiah, rejoice! If you were awaiting a sterling Republican nominee who would save us from the appalling mess we’re in, and all you’ve got is Mitt or Newt—rejoice! You’ve learned a deep and painful lesson. Presidents aren’t gods, so presidents aren’t saviors. Presidents are mere mortals with all their mortal faults, character flaws, inconsistencies, confusions, misjudgments, malodorous entanglements, and yes, plain stupidities.

In one sense, this isn’t even a religious lesson. It’s a merely political lesson. Our Constitution was originally defined to exclude political messianism by doing everything it could to keep presidents from becoming kings. When presidents are treated as king-messiahs, we are looking to them as gods. When we look to them as gods, we tend to give them political omnipotence to act as our quasi-divine saviors. We give them more and more power, as our desperation increases. We’re getting more and more desperate, and that’s more and more dangerous. That desperation is seen most vividly in the spiraling intensity of the presidential election process.

So it’s is dangerous sign of our lapsing into political messianism when we hear—when we want to hear—the president or president hopefuls say, “When I’m president, the first thing I’m going to do…” and then outline a whole host of programs and legislation he or she is going to draft and “push” through Congress or even worse, impose by fiat through executive orders.

That is not the president’s job. That’s actually Congress’s job. Or, far more accurately, it is the job of the various state and local governing bodies. That’s where our fundamental political, economic, and moral responsibility was originally placed. We the people are supposed to govern ourselves, to mind our own businesses carefully and fruitfully, to support our own families and communities by our work and sacrifice, to invest and spend our money and our time prudently, to bring our own children up well.

That’s the political lesson. We have to clean up our own messes. Washington has only as much power as we give it, and if we think it can save us from these darkening times, we’ll give them more power than even honest men should have.

Yet, it is a religious lesson, a lesson tied to the political lesson. These really are dark times, very dark, but history is full of dark times. There really aren’t any light times, even though some times are lighter than others. But something is deeply broken in human nature, and it seems to bring about, very predictably, wars, oppression, greed, fraud, political manipulation, political catastrophe, baneful waste, and real suffering. No frail mortal can save us from all this, especially when we realize that “all this” includes us, and our own sins. The shifting of political power will inevitably shift it from one fallen mortal’s shoulders to another.

There are better and worse mortals. The real cads, bounders, opportunists, swindlers, and demagogues should be thrown out, and better mortals brought in. But no election can take the place of the need of a real savior, someone who’s aiming at the root of the problem in our hearts rather than merely trimming the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of our government.

So, there is a little bit of Advent left, a little bit of time remaining that we may turn away from politics, shutting out its bloomin’ buzzing chatter and confusion, and turn our minds and hearts toward the Silent Night, the approaching night in the darkest time of our year when the light of the true Messiah—the one who comes to save us from our sins, not somebody else’s sins—flashed forth over two millennia ago in an Empire and a world full of just as much corruption, disappointment, crass opportunism, greed, malice, and stupidity as the world we now feel threatening us.

The messianic title of Jesus Christ as “king of kings” is actually quite old, going all the way back, at least, to 13th century BC Assyria. In the Bible, Daniel applies it to Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 2:37), and Revelation, we hear Christ called “Lord of lords and King of kings” (17:14), a phrase seared into our minds by Handel’s glorious Messiah.

Let’s take a moment to reflect on this title. This Christ, who receives the title last of all, is the same one who declared “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).

In his title “King of kings” and his declaration “My kingdom is not of this world” we have the end of kingship—in both senses of “end.” In being declared King of kings, Christ is being proclaimed as the one king that all kingship was aiming at but failed to achieve—the righteous king, the great and loving shepherd, the incorruptible judge, the union of divine power and divine wisdom, the kiss of justice and mercy. He is the king humanity has been yearning for but never gets.

In a way, our yearning for a savior king—and even a savior president—is a good thing. It is a sign that we know we need a savior, that only a king who contains the greatest power, greatest desire for justice, greatest wisdom, greatest mercy can truly and finally solve our problems.

But there’s another sense of “end” in Christ’s title “King of kings,” a sense fully revealed in his solemn words to Pontius Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Here, all merely political hope in kings—or presidents—has been cut off at the roots. Our world is somehow so deeply perturbed by sin that the King of kings has set his kingdom in another. All that we truly aim for, hope for, in merely human political rule is sadly and ultimately misplaced. By declaring that his kingdom was not of this world, Jesus was cutting off all hope for political utopianism.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that we should let things go to political, economic, moral, and social pot, that we should just give up on this world and start packing the whole mess in a handbasket addressed “To Hell.” We are caught in the paradoxical position—a command by that King of kings—that we must do everything we can to fix the problems of this world, even while we know that the ultimate fix is not of this world. Only then will we be permitted to enter the kingdom of the King of kings.

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