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by Jacob Ninan

Though the noun ‘scheme’ usually refers to a detailed plan of action without any connotation of good or bad about it, the verb ‘scheme’ is most commonly associated with ‘evil’ plans meant for gaining something for oneself even at the expense of others. The Bible also uses the word in that way, as in “One who plans to do evil, men will call a schemer” (Prov.24:8). To make good plans is wisdom, but when they are selfish or cause harm to the others, those who make such plans are called schemers. Jacob in the Bible is commonly referred to as a schemer for the way he stole the birth right from his brother, cheated his father to get his blessing, and then manipulated things to get wealth from his father-in-law (Gen.27:36).

Politics seems to be an area where schemers thrive! In fact, the more astute and shrewd the politician is in scheming, the greater power he seems to wield. The question is not really about what they can do for the country and its people, but how they can manipulate everything to hold on to their power and enhance it. They want to maximise their gain before some others who are more scheming come along and push them aside. They can make statements, retract them, and say they were misunderstood or taken out of context even when things are on public record. They reason to themselves and sometimes even to their people that they have had to spend a lot of money to win the elections, and the least they can do is to get it back and have some more to fight the next election! When they make a political decision, it does not seem to even occur to them to consider if it is good for the country or future generations, but they are concerned only with what would make a good press and how they can keep their allies and opponents at the proper distances. A friend of a big political leader in the country told me recently how when this leader had to take a stand on a national issue his considerations were about how it would affect his party’s relationship with the other parties and voters, and not about whether it would help the country to make progress or not. Politicians call for protests sometimes to challenge their opponents, knowing very well that these may result in many deaths and large damage to property, and carefully keep themselves out of harm’s way! Many politicians have criminal records to start with, and do not even hesitate to get ‘troublemakers’ out of their way. At the end of it all the sadder fact is that the people who support them continue to do that, seemingly unfazed by all the crookedness and character flaws the politicians have demonstrated.

Machiavelli who is known as a founder of modern political science advocated the occasional need for the methodical exercise of brute force, deceit, and so on to achieve political goals. Some scholars are of the opinion that his approach was based on the principle that the end justified the means. The adjective ‘Machiavellian’ has been coined to describe such a scheming approach to achieving one’s selfish goals. It seems that it is no longer the odd politician who is adept at manipulation, but the system itself has become such that it is difficult for a sincere man even to survive without succumbing to it or getting crushed in the process of resisting it. There was an article in a news magazine some years ago about the Chief Minister in a state complaining to the Chief Secretary that a new IAS officer was not complying with the demands of a minister. The Chief Secretary’s reply was that it was only a matter of time before the officer would adjust to the system. So he did as time went on, apparently becoming one of the most corrupt officers in the state.

For many in the workplace, the uppermost goal seems to be to get to the top as fast as possible. Therefore they scheme and plot with great ingenuity, not being the least hesitant to put down their colleagues in front of the boss by highlighting their mistakes or spreading stories about them, but also going out of their way to curry favour with the boss with flattery, taking credit for other people’s contributions, smooth talking their way out of problems, etc. It is not just that the good of the organisation is given only a small priority but many other lives are driven to frustration along the way of this man’s pursuit of progress. I heard one man giving advice to youngsters that if they wanted to go big in an organisation they should identify which people really mattered in the decision making process, and cater to their wishes.

Is Christendom any better? Hardly. Personal rat races are common in many churches and Christian organisations. Promoting self is the driving factor here too. Whether it is to become the bishop, committee chairman, senior pastor or general secretary, scheming follows ways that are tragically similar to politics or the secular workplace. Many leaders are more interested in making a name for themselves and leaving monuments behind them than in serving others for which Christ has commissioned them. Many others are even siphoning off project funds into their wallets. It is a sad but commonplace fact that numbers are often manipulated in order to impress the donors, without any qualms about truth.

Instead of Christians influencing the world for the better, the world has been influencing Christians for the worse. Isn’t one of the root causes for this our poor quality as Christians? The example of James and John along with their mother jostling for position in Jesus’ coming kingdom shows us that mere acquaintance with Jesus is not enough to transform our lives from living for ourselves to living for Christ. We need to be ‘born again’ and ‘become like little children’ before we can understand or participate in the working of the kingdom of God. This would become easier for us if we keep before our eyes that world that is to come rather than this present world.

The apostle Paul is not just the author of many books of the Bible and missionary leader of the early church, but he has left us an outstanding example of personal life and work. He was so gripped of the fact that as a blasphemer and persecutor he was forgiven that he no longer sought anything for himself. The things in his life that people of the world would admire he counted as dung. He sought to live with a clear conscience at all times and to keep a clear testimony before God and also before people. He was very clear in his mind that one day all of us would have to give an account of ourselves to God. These are some of the characteristics of those who are genuinely working for the kingdom of God.

This kind of transformation as a community of Christians needs not only individual repentance, realignment of goals, and change of thinking and behaviour, but also a change of the leadership mentality towards working for promoting these changes in individuals and organisations. Leaders need to dream big for the kingdom of God and His people, and make strategic and tactical plans to achieve those goals. But we also need to keep in mind that scheming and devising self-promoting plans belong to another kingdom. Lucifer was thrown out of heaven for wanting to exalt himself, and all the other angels who had the same mind found themselves with him outside.

-- Published in the Light of Life magazine, January 2013

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