“Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God” (Romans 13:1 NKJV).
The sight of burned out motorcycles lying half submerged in a pond and ballot boxes smashed with their contents torn and stomped on is not a ringing endorsement of democracy. Yet these were scenes depicted in the newspaper the day after local elections in Bangladesh. The motorcycles belonged to candidates and their supporters from one party who were attacked and beaten at a polling place by thugs hired by the opposition.
Those of us privileged to have been raised in functional democratic societies tend to think of ours as the only form of government that could possibly be desired by thinking people. We see representative government as that “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” That no such democratic government is perfect we would readily admit. It is much more difficult, however, for us to honestly acknowledge just how short of perfection most of them are.
Electoral corruption takes many forms. Sometimes it is by violent coercion such as that which we have witnessed here. Sometimes it is through bribery or inducement – the time-honored (but dishonest) practice of buying votes. Sometimes it is demonstrated by candidates shouting insults and threats at one another instead of describing what benefits their election would bring to their people.
The old proverb remains true: “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” In other words, some people will do anything to get elected, and the higher the office the more extreme will be their effort.
If democracy is a less than perfect form of government, is there a better alternative? That may be (and is) debated endlessly. But the answer is simple – yes there is. It is the ancient form which Israel first possessed. The best government of all is a Theocracy – one where God’s rule is acknowledged and prized.
“And the Lord said to Samuel, Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them” (1 Samuel 8:9).
From the time that Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt until the rule of Samuel as priest and prophet and judge, Israel had no official head of government. They followed leaders appointed by God who were guided by divine revelation. God was Israel’s King.
In Samuel’s old age, when his only apparent successors were the prophet’s unrighteous sons, they asked for a change in government – to have a king like the nations around them. God saw their demand for exactly what it was, a rejection of his direct guidance in exchange for a system they thought would help them against their enemies.
We read the remainder of the Old Testament and see the consequences of this decision. Israel’s kings would lead them into polytheism, idolatry, immorality, social corruption, and eventual defeat and disaster. The monarchy was a total failure, even though God did use it in order to fulfill his eternal purpose of salvation in Christ.
Can we return to a Theocratic form of government? Well, to be honest the answer is “yes” and “no”. God has not given any indication of his willingness or desire to inspire leaders today and guide them as he did Moses, Joshua and the Judges. Without such practical guidance no government could act “at the Word of the Lord.”
But a theocracy does exist in two senses. First, in that all government gains its existence and authority from God (Romans 13:1ff). Christians may submit to presidents, kings, or dictators knowing that their power is limited and controlled by the Almighty One. God really is in charge. No matter what evil human rulers might do, God will adjust its eventual outcome (Romans 8:28).
Secondly, our true citizenship is not in any nation or kingdom of mankind, but in the Kingdom of God and of Jesus his Son (Colossians 1:13). In that kingdom (his Church) Jesus is “Head over all things” (Ephesians 1:22) and truly “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (Revelation 19:16). Jesus directs us, oversees us, and protects us. In him we have “every spiritual blessing in heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3) and “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3).
Therefore no matter who wins the elections (in whatever country and year), or who rises to power through coup or war, God is and will be sovereign. “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8).