What are Biblical Examples of Choosing the Lesser of Two Evils? Part 2 of Who Should Christians Vote For?

Part 2 of a 3 Part Series: Who Should Christians Vote For?

In 2016 our choice for President is truly a terrible decision between the two major parties. Approached pragmatically, of course we must do our utmost to achieved the best result. Besides, as we are often told, unless Jesus himself is on the ballot, every election is a choice between the lesser of two evils. What does the Bible teach about this?

Are there any biblical examples of choosing a civil authority from between two evils?

Because Israel had judges, chosen by God, and kings there aren’t a lot of examples of people choosing between the lesser of two evil rulers in the Old Testament. And none that I could find in the New Testament. God, it seems, is less concerned with earthly governments, and more concerned about the Kingdom of Heaven. I found no prescriptive commandments regarding choosing civil leaders. Part 1 of this series looked at the minimum biblical standard for civil authorities. Like that post, I’m looking for examples in history from which we can draw lessons that might apply to our situation today. These are descriptive in nature, They tell us what happened, not what we must do. But, those who do not learn from history are likely to repeat the same mistakes.

In my search I did find an article that claimed to show 3 examples of voting for the lesser of two evils. (This was from 2012, and about voting for the lesser evil of Romney vs Obama. If only that was the choice today…)

 Here are the 3 examples of selecting the lesser of two evils the author mentions:
Absalom vs David:
This is an attempted coup. 2 Samuel 15 outlines how Absalom gained support to try to overthrow his own father. David was not perfect. Among other things he had a man killed to cover his affair with that man’s wife. And his troubles with Absalom (who had been exiled for killing his half brother, after that brother had raped his sister) also stemmed from issues within his family.

But David was king of Israel. And David was a repentant, restored man. 2 Samuel 11,12 tells the whole story. Acts 13:22 describes David as a man after God’s own heart. This wasn’t an election, and it wasn’t a choice between the lesser of two evils.

Adonijah vs Solomon:
 1 Kings 1. David is on his deathbed. Adonijah decides he should be the next king. But David has already told Bathsheba and the prophet Nathan (same one that confronted David about his affair and murder) that Solomon is to be the next king. This isn’t a secret, although no public announcement has been made.  Adonijah knows about it because he doesn’t invite Nathan, any of David’s Mighty Men or Solomon to the event where he planned to take the throne. Since Adonijah was well liked, he likely could have become king.

Except Nathan discovered what he was doing. He knew that Adonijah would kill Solomon and his mother. So both he and Bathsheba went to David. After David learned what was going on, he made the official announcement that Solomon was his heir. Adonijh heard about this while his own feast was still going on.

So again, this wasn’t a choice between two evils. This wasn’t an election. Solomon was designated the heir by the king, and at this time wasn’t an “evil” choice. It’s not until the end of his days that Solomon turns away from God. That leads us to the last example.

Jeroboam vs Rehoboam:
You can find this story in 1 Kings 11,12. Solomon has turned from God. Rehoboam is Solomon’s son and assumed heir to Israel. God sends a prophet, Ahijah, to Jeroboam and tells him that Israel will be split. 10 tribes will be for Jeroboam to rule. 2 for Rehoboam. This isn’t an election, it’s God sending word through prophet. It’s judgement on Solomon, 1 Kings 11:39 says he will afflict David’s line, but not forever.

Was Jeroboam an evil? We know from verse 28 that he had some leadership in Israel; Solomon trusted him to lead the forced labor of the house of Joseph. That’s it. We do know that God made Jeroboam a promise:
     “And if you will listen to all that I command you, and will walk in my ways, and do what is right in my eyes by keeping my statutes and my commandments, as David my servant did, I will be with you and will build you a sure house, as I built for David, and I will give Israel to you.” 1 Kings 11:38

Jeroboam did not have to do evil, he had a choice.  Unfortunately, after an ugly division of Israel (along the lines the prophet predicted) Jeroboam did not obey God. 1 Kings 14 describes another prophecy from Ahijah concerning Jeroboam’s line because of his disobedience. From this time onward the Northern Kingdom never had a king that followed God. Judah and the Northern Kingdom never reconciled. Both Rehoboam and Jeroboam chose to do evil in the sight of God.

This is the closest of the 3 examples to choosing a lesser of two evils. Even though there was a prophecy, what if the tribes of Israel had a choice in who to follow? We knew how the division would end up because of the prophecy, but the people made a decision. What was the result of choosing between those two?

Both leaders moved their respective kingdoms away from God. The Israelites may not have known that Jeroboam would do this, but this pattern continued throughout the Northern Kingdom’s existence.  Judah sometimes had kings who tried to follow God, but often had kings who also did evil in the sight of God.

What if there had not been a prophecy? What if the people of Israel truly could have changed the course of history in the moment? Instead of choosing between the tyrannical Rehoboam or the idolatrous Jeroboam, what if they had said no? What if they had demanded a king who followed God; one who was like David, a man after God’s own heart? What if they had rejected two bad choices, and chosen a good one? What would the history of Israel look like today? We don’t know, because that didn’t happen.

What we do know is that God eventually let Israel be conquered by Assyria and Judah by Babylon. He protected the line of David and maintained a remnant, and Jesus was born into a world ruled by Romans.

God eventually allowed his chosen people to be captured and carted off as spoils of war because they kept choosing to worship false idols and do evil in the sight of God. So if Israel had a choice in this situation,what should they have done? Would it not have been better to change course and not end up a conquered nation?

I, for one, don’t want to see America keep sliding into the hole our current political system has dug for us. What makes us think that God will preserve our country as we keep blindly choosing between two bad candidates for leadership when he didn’t even protect Israel, his chosen people? Time and time again, Israel’s leaders and her people turned from God. And he eventually allowed them to be conquered.

Even though the New Testament doesn’t report examples of choosing lesser evils in civil authorities, there is one passage that relates to doing something bad in order to achieve something good.

In Romans Chapter 2 and 3, Paul was writing about accusations that preaching about grace would devalue the law. Essentially, that doing things that go against the law (like not being circumcised) because believers are under grace devalues the Law.
“And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just. ” Romans 3:8

The sentiment is the same as echoed in Romans 6:1-2. “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” Not just one sin, but sin in general. Not just one evil act, but do evil in general to do good.  The greek word for good in this verse is “agathos” which means “good, profitable, benevolent, useful”. Paul is talking about doing things that are bad for a good benefit. Some comments on this passage:
  • Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary says, “Let us do evil, that good may come, is oftener in the heart than in the mouth of sinners; for few thus justify themselves in their wicked ways.The believer knows that duty belongs to him, and events to God; and that he must not commit any sin, or speak one falsehood, upon the hope, or even assurance, that God may thereby glorify himself. If any speak and act thus, their condemnation is just.”
  • Albert Barnes Notes on the Bible  says, “Whatever is evil is not to be done under any pretence. Any imaginable good which we may think will result from it; any advantage to ourselves or to our cause; or any glory which we may think may result to God, will not sanction or justify the deed.”
  • Matthew Poole’s Commentary says, “ The apostle doth not vouchsafe to refute this absurd saying, but simply condemns it, and those that put it in practice.”
  • Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown’s Commentary says, “Such reasoning amounts to this- ‘which, indeed, we who preach salvation by free grace are slanderously accused of teaching – that the more evil we do, the more glory will rebound to God; a damnable principle.’ thus the apostle, instead of refuting this principle, thinks it enough to hold it up to execration, as one that shocked the moral sense.”

Doing something bad for a good result? Condemning that action is just. Evil is not to be done under any pretense.

I cannot find a single positive example of something bad in hopes of a good result in the Bible. Choosing between evils never ends up with a good result, just a less bad one. How bad will we let things get before we reject the perpetual binary cycle?

I cannot find any biblical evidence that suggests a Christian should choose the lesser of two evils in an election. Many are facing that choice today.

If I may be so bold, don’t chose the lesser evil. Find someone or something to vote for.

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What is the Biblical Standard for Choosing Civil Authority? Part 1 of Who Should Christians Vote For?

[I’ve gone out of my way to not talk in specifics about this election season, but instead look at principles that should frame our votes in every election, for every office.]

Part 1 of a 3 part series: Who Should Christians Vote For?

Americans have the great privilege of choosing their own civil authorities. Christians in American still have to submit to those in authority over us (Romans 13:1), but every so often we get to choose who those people are. The first Justice of the Supreme Court, Honorable John Jay said, “God is the One who has given us the privilege in this Christian nation of selecting our leaders.”

Since we have such an honor and privilege, how then should we choose our leaders? By what standard should they be held? How should we decide who to vote for?

In a time when there are many conflicting messages, I turned to the Bible. What does it say about rulers and civil authorities? Voting for a civil authority is not like voting for a pastor. It has often been said that the US President is not the Pastor-in-Chief. What does the Bible say about selecting civil authorities? How should we expect them to lead?

There are two significant examples of civil leaders being selected from the among Israelites. Before we examine them, let’s agree that these are descriptive passages about what happened, and not prescriptive passages about what we must do. Let’s also agree that if we hold the Bible to be true, then these passages contain lessons that can be applied to our own modern selection of leaders.

Exodus 18:21a “ But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain”

Deuteronomy 1:13 “Choose some wise, understanding and respected men from each of your tribes, and I will set them over you.”

In the Exodus passage, Moses needed help dealing with civil matters, with disagreements among the people. Jethro, his father-in-law, suggested looking for these qualities in the people selected to help;

  • God Fearing– They needed a healthy respect for God and the things of God.
  • Trustworthy– They were faithful, honest, and could be relied upon.
  • Hating dishonest gain– People of integrity.

Similar situation in Deuteronomy, when God told Moses what sort of people to choose:

  • Wise– People who were not just knowledgable, but wise.
  • Understanding– People who could understand the situation they were presiding over.
  • Respected– People who have earned the respect of the community.

That seems like a pretty smart list of qualities to look for in a candidate for any office. Based on those passages my personal list looks something like this:

I will vote for candidates that respect religion and religious freedom. They will be honest, and people I can believe will do what they say they will do. They will be people of integrity. I will look for people who are wise, and competent to fill the office they are running for. I will vote for people who I believe are capable of earning and keeping my respect.

For me, this is the minimum standard for my vote. Notice I didn’t mention specific social or economic issues, no foreign policy or immigration or any other political issue. That’s not because I don’t care about them, I very much do. But issues change as society changes. The bedrock of biblical truth upon which we build our worldview does not.

The 6 qualities of a civil authority listed here are immutable and timeless. You and I may disagree on nuances of issues, but we can agree on this short list. Plus, people who respect religion, and who I consider wise and competent will, in my view, hold positions on issues similar to my own. But if they don’t meet the standard of this list, I should keep searching no matter how much they might share my views on issues.

The book of Proverbs is also full of wisdom about civil authorities:

  • A ruler who lacks understanding is a cruel oppressor. Pr 28:16a
  • When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan. Pr 29:2
  • If a ruler listens to falsehood, all his officials will be wicked. Pr 29:12
  • Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety. Pr 11:14
  • Wicked behavior is detestable to kings, since a throne is established through righteousness. Pr 16:12 (HCSB)
  • When a land transgresses, it has many rulers, but with a man of understanding and knowledge, its stability will long continue. Pr 28:2

This isn’t an exhaustive list of verses, but you can get a biblical picture of the person we should be looking to vote for. It can be hard to hold to this sort of standard in our current political climate, especially on the national level. It’s very easy to allow fear to color your decision.

What if none of the candidates can live up to this standard? What if that horrible candidate wins? I point you to Romans 8:28, and encourage you to remember God is sovereign. While he cares about everything, God’s primary purpose is not to fix earthly governments. The Kingdom of Heaven is not about one nation, it’s about something far more important.

Dr. Russell Moore from the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission was talking about the 2016 Presidential election and he said, “If you lose an election you can live to fight another day and move on, but if you lose an election while giving up your very soul then you have really lost it all, and so I think the stakes are really high.”

Who should you vote for? It may be that you have several choices that biblically qualify for an office, or you may feel you have none. I think the process starts with prayer. Ask God to lead you to the candidate for each office. No one will be perfect, but it’s doubtful God will lead you to a candidate that is completely contrary to this simple biblical standard. He won’t lead you to a candidate who is not wise, not trustworthy, does not have integrity, is not respectable, who does not respect religion. But you may have to look beyond candidates who get the most media attention.

I encourage you to stick to what you value and vote for someone you can support. Much more important than which party holds what offices is your own relationship with God. Don’t betray your values over an election. You have the privilege and the responsibility to participate in choosing your own civil authorities; do it well.