Another presidential election is here, and I’m confused. Some of my older relatives and their friends want the current president to win a second term, but I think his personal conduct is immoral, self-serving, and hurtful. My own friends are mostly voting for his opponent, and while I like some of his social positions, he has a long history of supporting other causes that seem to be against what the Bible teaches. I want to honor Christ with my choice and these things are really bothering me. How can I choose when it feels like I’m deciding on “the lesser of two evils?”
Although the question refers to current events in the United States, it could refer to many other elections, both before and elsewhere! Leaders are sometimes remembered by history for just a few good or bad things. But many leaders have been deeply flawed persons who did many notable things in their time, both good and bad, for numerous reasons. These realities are lost in the simple stories told later. In the Old Testament, the great king Solomon thought about things like this for a while, then summarized the course of this world as a repeating cycle in which nobody learns from history:
“A generation goes, and a generation comes…What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it can be said, “See, this is new?” It has been already in the ages before us. There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after” (Eccl. 1:4, 9-11).
My answer to your question may be unexpected. Before going there, I want to walk through three points about leaders and use Scripture to back my claims.
1. Leaders, even when they are godly, are always flawed human beings.
God doesn’t gloss over the reality of sin. The faithful were flawed, and Scripture shows us some of their failures. To name one, Noah is recorded as an example of faith in the New Testament (Heb. 11:7). He is also the first person in Scripture to receive governmental authority from God (Gen. 9:1-6).1 But Noah soon proved he would not govern himself. His sons, in turn, demonstrated two common reactions to leadership failure: two tried to respectfully resolve the situation, and one publicly mocked it (Gen. 9:20-23).2
Other well known, godly leaders in Scripture had specific problems, or demonstrated a general character weakness. Solomon, quoted above, was Israel’s greatest Old Testament king. How well did he meet God’s standard? Through Moses, God told Israel that once they settled in the land of Canaan, they would desire a king, and He placed three limits on that king’s behavior. First, “he must not acquire many horses for himself…or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses.” Second, “he shall not acquire many wives for himself, let his heart turn away.” And third, “nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold” (Dt. 17:14-17).
Although God blessed Solomon with peace and wealth, Solomon later amassed gold and silver beyond measure, acquired horses from Egypt, and built a massive harem of 700 wives and 300 concubines, mostly through foreign alliances (1 Ki. 11:1-6). It was the women in his harem that finally led him away from whole-heartedly serving God. The same Solomon that built the temple and offered a glorious prayer and extraordinary sacrifices at its dedication (1Ki. 8:22-66) was eventually an idol worshipper. Not only did this damage his testimony, it restarted Israel’s tendency toward idolatry which persisted for centuries afterward.
2. People who want power are often corrupt or violent.
When God arranged for the flood, Genesis records that “every intention of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). The earth was correspondingly filled with corruption and violence (Gen. 6:11-13). These are the two characteristic results of sin, both in people’s lives and their societies. Only Noah found grace and was preserved, but as noted above, he also proved that the first leader of government would soon corrupt his own judgment. Corruption and/or violence have characterized earthly leaders ever since.
A study of the kings of Israel and Judah, as recorded in the books of Kings and Chronicles, gives plenty of evidence. Things got so bad that God finally removed government authority from Israel and gave it to Gentile kings, but not because He expected them to be better. When Daniel was given visions of the Gentile kings who would rule over the earth all the way to the Roman empire, these included vivid prophetic descriptions of ruthless and brutal men such as Alexander the Great and Antiochus Epiphanes.3 The Lord Jesus also noted that many Gentile leaders enjoy lording their position over others (Mt. 20:25), in the context of warning His disciples not to adopt the same attitude.
Let me highlight one example from the kings of Judah: Manasseh (2 Ki. 20:20-21:18; 2 Chr. 33:1-10). Mannaseh was the son of godly king Hezekiah. Did his father’s example have any impact on his heart? Sadly, no. Scripture records that Mannasseh was incredibly wicked. He restored all the forms of idolatry his father had removed, even inside the temple grounds. He burned his own son as an idol sacrifice, and used every form of occult practice available. He shed innocent blood “until he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another.” And the people of Judah went along with all this (2 Ki. 21:16).
3. God uses any leader He wishes, for His own purposes.
There are many examples of God turning leaders to His own ends, but to wrap up the question, let’s continue with Manasseh. Why was Manasseh ever allowed to rule? And why was he allowed to do it for 55 years, one of the longest periods for any king of Israel or Judah? The answer is recorded later in the account: his actions were a public, visible reason for the awful judgment God was about to bring upon His people (2Ki. 23:26, 24:3). Their hearts were turned away from God long before Manasseh took power. His father’s reign was a nice reprieve from idolatry but it didn’t fix the underlying problem. After Manasseh’s reign, there could be no doubt among the nations why the almighty God gave His treasured people over to foreign captivity and allowed Jerusalem to be destroyed.
There’s a plot twist, however. We wouldn’t know about it if God had only given us the books of 1 & 2 Kings, which emphasize human responsibility. But He also provided 1 & 2 Chronicles which show the ways of God in grace. There, we learn that Manasseh was captured with hooks by the Assyrians, taken to Babylon, and bound in brass chains (2 Chr. 33:11-20). During that time he humbled himself and repented. God later allowed him to return to Judah and complete his reign, and he worked to repair some of the damage he had done. He wasn’t able to remove all idolatry from Judah, because again, the people’s hearts wanted these things. But he did reduce the amount of it before his death.
And the answer is…
In short, we shouldn’t expect leaders to be particularly godly or even good people, although we can be thankful when they are. And we don’t always understand the ways of God when He permits any particular leader to rule. We can simply observe what He does, and have a peaceful assurance that He is in control of all things, including leaders and their activities (compare Rom. 13:1-7, Prov. 21:1, and Dan. 4:17, 25).
That brings us to my answer, which is to challenge an assumption behind your question: the possible belief that you are required to make any choice at all. In the United States, at least, the law does not require it. Given verses like those above, I am confident God does not require it. I know there are many competing voices pushing you to “make a difference,” including fellow Christians, and perhaps the burning of your own heart to see society’s problems addressed.
But Romans 14:23 indicates that everything we do in life must be by faith, and if we act to violate our conscience, it is sin, even if God has not given us a direct instruction. Also, James 1:12-13 shows that God never tests anyone with sinful desires, so we can be assured He will never ask us to choose between two potentially sinful options. If your good conscience will be harmed by checking either box on a ballot, why would you participate at all?
If that challenge inspires a follow up question or concern, please post it in below in the comments! We would be happy to continue this discussion with you.
1. Prior to the flood, the only behavior-judging principle in Genesis is the work of conscience. Adam and Eve were given an instruction by God setting a boundary between right and wrong, but He didn’t place any human authority to enforce it. When they disobeyed, they felt guilty and hid from God when He visited them, showing the work of conscience. When their son Cain killed his brother Abel, God confronted Cain and he became evasive, another sign of a bad conscience. Once again no human authority was appointed by God to put him on trial. The principle of conscience continues today, but in Genesis 9, we see for the first time that people are given responsibility to enforce order.
2. Ham’s reaction requires careful review of the passage. When it says he “told” his brothers, the word literally means a “confident statement” (see Strong’s Lexicon for H4056). In Eastern culture, any public announcement against a patriarch would be highly defamatory. Once he recovered from drunkenness, Noah was again fit to speak as God’s appointed head of government on earth, and his sons’ motives are confirmed by Noah’s curse upon Ham and blessing to Shem and Japheth (Gen. 1:24-27). The relationships between their descendants is proven by the Old Testament history of Israel and the nations, since God’s focus has always been centered on that land of Israel and the coming of the Messiah (Christ) through the faithful line. Noah and his son Shem are part of that line (Luke 3:36).
3. Review Daniel 7 & 8. Note that these are Gentile rulers whose activity had some connection to the land of Israel. Little is said about lands or rulers outside of that sphere, even though we know from history that there were communities, states, and kingdoms operating elsewhere in the world.