This week has been an intense one both for people living in the United States of America and in the rest of the world. With the recent election still fresh in our memories, and Donald Trump as the new President-elect of the country, many people are having conversations about what to expect next. One thing is for certain: the new President will need to expect a lot of work.
The day after Barack Obama became President of the United States, satirical news website The Onion ran an article with the headline “Black Man Given Nation’s Worst Job.” While the article was a joke, it certainly had a ring of truth: comparing pictures of Obama in 2008 and today quickly shows the toll that the presidency has taken on him. But despite the difficulty and stress of the job, generation after generation of people dream of becoming president.
The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will. Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart.(Proverbs 21:1-2)
As we return to the story of Joseph, today in Genesis 41, we find him coming into a similar situation of political power: appointed second-in-command to Pharaoh in all of Egypt. For Joseph, however, running a country wasn’t something he sought out. Rather, within a day he found himself plucked from obscurity in prison, interpreting the Pharaoh’s dream, and suddenly tasked with running all of Egypt, organizing and stockpiling food, and saving the entire known world from starving in an oncoming famine.
Hopefully you’ve read for yourself what happened after Joseph was thrown into prison: he became manager of the prison and interpreted several people’s dreams, some of which ended in reward and others in ruin. Though he had lost his position in Potiphar’s court, God continued to bless whatever he did, wherever that was. And then, as it seems is always the case in Joseph’s life, everything changes in a day. He finds himself renamed, married, and commissioned by God and Pharaoh to run the country that he once came to as a slave.
Joseph’s situation is a unique one, though. He arrives at the beginning of a devastating crisis, follows direct guidance from God, and saves the world. He’s the kind of leader the presidents in disaster movies like Deep Impact and Independence Day would envy: calm, resourceful, intelligent, and commanding. He’s the kind of leader, in fact, that many Christians might be inspired to emulate.
Many Western democracies, notably the United States, have legislated the separation of church and state, but how they interpret this varies. In Canada and Scandinavian countries, endorsements of God and religion are usually absent from public proceedings. In the United States, on the other hand, all currency bears the motto “in God we trust,” and the President ends his addresses with the phrase “God bless America.” In a climate this explicitly religious, it’s understandable that many openly Christian people feel drawn to involvement in politics. But this raises important questions: how much should their beliefs affect their policies? Is it even Biblical to get involved in politics?
Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. (Daniel 20b-21a)
On the one hand, the Bible is full of stories of God guiding political leaders: not just Joseph, but also the patriarchs, prophets, and kings of Israel. On the other hand, God’s reluctance to establish a king in Israel (as noted in 1 Samuel 8) reveals how destructive political power can be, both to those who wield it and those they rule over. Jesus also instructs his followers to “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s,” perhaps implying that the two fields should be separate (Mark 12:17). And Jesus himself claimed that his Kingdom was “not from this world” (John 18:36).
Fairly recently, Dr. Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon and considerably famous Seventh-day Adventist, attempted to seize the nomination for leadership of the Republican party in the United States. He, along with several other candidates - including the eventual President-elect Donald Trump - claimed the Christian faith to be his guiding moral framework. Power raises questions for Christians: How does running for office affect your faith? How should your faith affect your policies? Is Joseph an example we should follow, or should Christians – especially Adventists – stay out of politics?
According to the following passage, why does Pharaoh appoint Joseph to a great position of power over Egypt? And Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.” And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt. Genesis 41:38-41
Is there a difference between being a Christian who is involved in politics and invoking God in your politics? Is one preferable to the other?
Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. (Daniel 20b-21a) What kind of comfort does this verse offer to Christians who are undergoing strife for social or political reasons?
How do you react to politicians that claim they are running for office specifically because of the guidance or call of God?
"Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God." (Romans 13:1)
- This quote comes from Paul, during a time when Christians were being persecuted by Rome. The politicians of the day were not good to Christians at all. How does this verse affect our understanding of politics today?