Recently I was witness to evidence of that amazing transformation from Communism to Democracy that has been experienced in Ukraine. As a former Soviet Republic the people of Ukraine spent seventy years under communist domination. Since the break up of the Soviet Union there has been a great deal of political turmoil in Ukraine as the people of the country struggle to learn democracy. In a microcosm I saw a group of Christian leaders putting what they have learned thus far into practice.
In a conference outside the capital city of Kiev a group of nearly thirty leaders of churches and various mission agencies had gathered to discuss the future of Christianity in their newly democratic country. Since the fall of Communism they had experienced what for them was unprecedented religious freedom. Countless groups from the west had flooded Ukraine in an effort to help strengthen the church. Some of those efforts were helpful and some clearly were not. Now these leaders, many of whom had known Jesus less than ten years, were taking responsibility for the future of their country and church.
They came up with a list of nearly two dozen issues that people around the table felt needed to be addressed if Christianity was to thrive in their country. It was then that I witnessed something that I am certain caused Stalin to turn over in his grave. They voted on every single suggestion in order to discover what priorities where most important. I sat in wonder as I realized that these people were only a few years removed from a time when such a vote would have been unthinkable and possibly dangerous. It was amazing and wonderful to see people taking ownership of the situation and respecting the ideas and opinions and votes of others around the table. Clearly a bridge had been crossed into the future. To have such freedom to determine ones future, to do it with out fear of reprisal, to live with a sense of dignity that your opinion and vote matter, is a blessed privilege.
But that also got me thinking. What are the dangers of Democracy? A wise person must recognize that even their greatest strengths can come with a blind spot that has the potential for ruin. Superman has superhuman strength because he is from another planet. But that also carries with it the seeds of his potential destruction. Kryptonite, which comes from his home planet, can drain his strength to the point of making him weaker than the weakest human. No matter how strong, good, powerful, talented, or gifted we are we must always be aware of the hidden dangers of that gift and the blind spot we have concerning it.
So what’s the hidden danger in democracy? For the Christian it is this; we don’t live in a democracy. We are citizens of a land that is an absolute monarchy. It is the Kingdom of God. It means that God is the ultimate sovereign ruler of that kingdom and all who live within it. It means that I don’t get a vote in what really matters. It means that I am the subject of the King and I owe Him my allegiance and obedience. That’s a hard thing for people who live and breathe the air of democracy from birth. Our freedom to do what we want, when we want, how we want and to change rulers we don’t like is so much a part of our cultural DNA that most people who live in western style democracies don’t even realize the danger they are in. The danger is that we marginalize God and act as if we are the masters of our lives and fate and not He who is our king.
We have been born and raised in a culture that thinks the highest possible value is to be placed on our freedom to decide for ourselves what we want. That includes deciding who is in charge. In fact democracy has built within it the notion that we have the right to reject any ruler and that the large group has wisdom far beyond that of the individual or small group of leaders. In the best of circumstances democracy protects people against the tyrant or complete incompetent who would bring ruin on a people or nation. But at its worst it means we reserve the right to vote God out of our lives. As a Christian you might not take a formal vote on it, but you certainly do it with regular decisions you make in which you fail to submit to your King. I know I do and I am pretty sure you are just like me.
The thing that seems to be at the heart of it all goes back to the beginning when Adam and Eve rejected God and His law. They believed that by eating the forbidden fruit, they could become like God, that they would rise up to some new level of freedom. They would become His equals: democracy in action. They did not want to submit, even to God. Neither do we most times. We don’t want to submit to our spouses, our parents, our employers, our rulers, or even our Lord. Yet the Bible calls us to submit to all of those and it does so on numerous occasions.
We justify our failure to submit by affirming our own freedom to do, as we want and by painting submission as somehow being degrading and subhuman. I contend that it is failure to submit to God and one another that is in fact what makes us “sub-human”. We were created to be in a relationship with God that had us under His rule as our Lord and King. The first time we took a vote, we voted to remove Him from the throne of our lives. When that happened we became less than we were created to be. That is what I mean by becoming sub-human. We became slaves of our own “democratic choice”. The only way out of the dilemma in which we find ourselves is to submit completely and totally to Him as Lord.