Last week saw the celebration of the international day of democracy. UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, said in his message:
“Let us recognize that democratic governance is a yearning shared and voiced by people the world over. Democracy is a goal in its own right, and an indispensable means for achieving development for all humankind.”
The goal of democracy for all nations is, at present, a secular one. Democracy for all, in spite of creed or religion, has been established as a benchmark for global development. But democracy is not uniform. I’ve lived for a short time in Pakistan, Malaysia and Singapore all of which have a form of democratic rule which differs in nature to the form of democracy we experience in Britain. Feudalism and dynastic ruling families or patriarchal attitudes play a more significant role in sub-continent and South-East Asian democracy than they do here. Class and social background are more likely to determine party loyalty in the UK or it’s the health of the economy which holds sway. As Bill Clinton kept saying in 1992, “it’s the economy stupid!”
The liberal secular form of democracy which we experience in Britain works something like this:
1. Various parties write their political manifestos which are too complex for most voters to grasp.
2. The people choose which party they believe will best serve their own needs economically and socially.
3. Free and fair elections ensure that the most popular party wins.
4. The government is held to account by the electorate. If the government doesn’t do what the electorate decides is in their interests, the government loses power at the next election.
This view of democracy has coloured our national view of God. For many people God is like a political party, he must run a successful election campaign before he gets our vote. He must provide for our needs, pay attention to our health and look after us in our dotage.
But God does not rule by democracy. We don’t get to vote for God. God is God and there is no other. God does not say “these are my laws and this is how I’ll run the world for your benefit, please vote for me.” No! God is our law maker and our judge and the one who watches over the righteous and will condemn the wicked to perish before him (Psalm 1). God is autocratic.
The autocracy of God is tempered by his benevolence. The blessed man of Psalm 1 is Jesus, the only man who ever delighted in the law of the Lord, and yet he is the one who perished in love for the sake of his people, the law breakers, who deserved only justice and punishment. In Christ, God demonstrates that he is gracious, merciful and yet the boss.
Democracy does not work when the will of the people is to get their self-serving way. Democracy works when the people will that their government acts as a benevolent democracy in line with the will of Christ, our servant King.