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by Jacob Ninan

Wikipedia refers to politics as achieving and exercising positions of organised control over a human community, particularly a state. Another definition is as activities aimed at improving someone’s status or increasing power within an organisation. Yet another description mentions forming alliances, exercising power and protecting and advancing particular ideas or goals, including anything affecting one's daily life, such as the way an office or household is managed, or how one person or group exercises influence over another. We use the word commonly to refer to manipulations that go on at government levels and also within organisations, churches (!), and workplaces.

The Bible gives us a few examples of such political manipulations. Perhaps the most notorious one was by Pontius Pilate. He had no doubt in his mind that Jesus was innocent of all the charges that the Jewish leaders had brought against Him. So he tried his best to release Jesus one way or another. But when he saw that a riot was likely which might affect his own standing with Rome he played politics. He washed his hands in front of the people saying that he was not guilty of the death of Jesus, and handed Jesus over to the soldiers to be crucified. Of course, this did not exonerate Pilate of the responsibility for the death of Jesus; it perhaps saved his skin for the moment.

Jesus was becoming very popular before the crowd and His simultaneous exposure of the hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders was making these leaders feel insecure. Caiaphas the high priest thought that it was better to get Jesus killed because otherwise they might lose their power and the Romans might take control of the religious set up also. Another play of politics for survival at the cost of an innocent life!

Haman had become a favourite of King Ahasuerus who ruled from Ethiopia to India. He could not bear it that when everyone honoured his authority, Mordecai the Jew would not bow down before him. So he made a scheme and got the king to agree to destroy all the Jews in the land, in the process of which Mordecai would also get eliminated and no one would be the wiser!

King Herod married Herodias who was his brother Philip’s wife. When John the baptiser pointed out that this was wrong in the sight of God, Herodias hated him for it. When her daughter pleased Herod so much with her dancing that he was willing to give her anything as a present, Herodias used the occasion to ask for John’s head! She had Herod in a trap, and he was so concerned about keeping his word for maintaining his prestige before his friends that he obliged his wife! It mattered less to him that an innocent man whom he admired would lose his life as a result!

King David thought that after he had slept with Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife, and sent her back home, everything would be fine. But she became pregnant. Now his reputation was at stake and he could also get stoned to death for adultery according to the Law of Moses. So he first tried to make it look as if the baby was Uriah’s, and when that ruse did not work he arranged for Uriah to be killed, who could have exposed him.

We are so used to hearing politicians making statements one day and claiming when they are asked about them either that they had not said anything like that or that they had been misunderstood. Politicians are known to ‘buy’ votes, buy supporters, pay off the police or judges to put away cases against them, and even put to death those who cause trouble.

Politics takes place in workplaces also. People ‘butter’ their bosses and pull down their colleagues in order to get promotions. Kickbacks are taken to show favour for contractors or suppliers and then that is covered up through splitting the loot with those who are in the know and creating reasons on paper why such contracts are the best. Potential whistle-blowers are kept out of the loop, bought over or even eliminated.

One would hope that the church would stand up as a challenging example in the midst of such rampant manipulations for self-exaltation and gain. But churches can also be full of power politics which can be seen especially where elections are involved. Misuse of power or position to promote relatives or cronies or to amass wealth for oneself is not at all that rare.

Even if we are not in public positions where our deeds or misdeeds might affect a large number of others, nevertheless, we too may be tempted to play politics in different situations. To what extent will we be willing to bend the law, cut corners, overlook principles or go against our commitment to our Lord in order to manage difficult situations? Does everyone, as they say, have a price?

In the examples we have considered above, Pilate, Caiaphas, Herod and David were all trying to preserve their status by resorting to politics. Haman, on the other hand, was trying to enhance his position by eliminating obstacles along the way. We notice both these types of moves taking place commonly around us. In the case of Herod and David, they unexpectedly found themselves in situations which, they felt, compelled them to take such measures. They both felt a threat to themselves. Pilate and Caiaphas were in official positions where they might have tried to justify themselves by taking a stance that they were not thinking of themselves but only doing something for the ‘proper’ functioning of their office.

Why do we people do such things even when our conscience tells us that we would not be doing the right thing but violating some principle of God in the process? One thing psychologists have recognised is that every one of us has a basic need for what they call a sense of significance about ourselves. This is a need to feel important, to be recognised and valued by the others for what we are and what we do. Many people try to meet this need through achievements, trying to show others what they can do with the special skills and abilities they have. Others try to make their importance felt by exercising authority over others or by accumulating wealth.

We can see that it is a very slippery path for us to try and feel significant in comparison to others because there may be always someone else who can do better, or who has more than we do. Our positions can be very temporary as when we grow older and younger ones overtake us. Our wealth can get reduced or even disappear with an unexpected turn of events. But people still try to do more or accumulate more in a way that never ends or brings satisfaction. King Solomon saw while he was trying to make sense of life, “There was a certain man without a dependent, having neither a son nor a brother, yet there was no end to all his labour. Indeed, his eyes were not satisfied with riches and he never asked, ‘And for whom am I labouring and depriving myself of pleasure?’” (Eccl.4:8).

People play politics in order to preserve their level of significance or to gain more. Because a loss of significance can be a very painful experience, people try to do anything they can to keep what they have or to acquire more.

Adam and Eve began to feel like this only after they fell. Earlier they had felt completely recognised, valued, respected and accepted in their relationship with God. But when they made themselves independent of God, they immediately felt this vacuum. From then onwards, men and women have struggled to attain a level of significance before people and finding themselves unable to succeed fully or for all time.

Our relationship with God through Jesus shows us the way out of this situation and towards the original plan of God for us. When we are sure of how much God values us and the purpose He has for each of us now and for eternity, we can stop playing politics and relax, sensing fulfilment in our relationship with Him.

Jesus, as a Man, had such a strong conviction of His identity before the Father that He did not have to try and impress people or hold on to His position or reputation before people. “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself” (Jn.13:3,4). He could serve His disciples without any fear of losing His dignity before them. But what we see is how many Christians want to become leaders and not servants, and lord it over others rather than gird themselves to serve others. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt.20:28).

-- Editorial in the Light of Life magazine, May 2017

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