As we continue to await the results of the 2020 election, I keep finding myself thinking about Ecclesiastes. Solomon proclaims in Eccl 1:2 that everything under the sun is “vanity” or, more literally, “vapor” (Hebrew hevel). Thus, governments, even entire nations, are also vapor.
Consider how insubstantial, like vapor, governments are. People look to their governments for lasting gain, especially by providing comprehensive security, prosperity, and justice. And leaders often promise these to the people. But inevitably the government fails. Even good governments, like Solomon’s, cannot provide all that people hope for (Eccl 3:16; 4:1-3; 5:8)! Problems and dangers always continue in some measure in society since both mankind and the world are fallen. Those grasping for deliverance through government or a particular leader inevitably find a frustrating fistful of air.
Consider also how fleeting governments are. Elected leaders constantly cycle in and out in our country, and those with lifelong appointments must still give up their seats at death. Laws, too, are often enacted and repealed relatively quickly; think about how many rules have changed in your own lifetime, sometimes in a tug-of-war fashion! Whole government systems also pass away. Though the world may feel like it has always been the way it is now, realize that most if not all of today’s governments—various forms of republics, monarchies, and one-party states—are less than 250 years old. What happened to the previous governments? They disappeared, some gradually, some suddenly. Why should we think our current government will last forever, then? Just as people fly away quickly like vapor, so also do the world’s great governments and nations.
Finally, consider how frustratingly puzzling government is. Despite mankind’s “advancements” in political understanding and institutions, perennial problems of government remain unsolved. How to effectively combat homelessness? How to secure lasting peace in the world? How to guarantee both religious and intellectual freedom while enforcing an objective moral code? All too often, people come up with solutions for government that work well in theory but that fail in the real world or result in unanticipated consequences. Even great Solomon confessed that some problems could not be totally solved (Eccl 1:15; 8:15-17). Like an invisible and formless vapor, complete wisdom for government will ultimately elude those striving for that wisdom.
Now then, if government is indeed vapor, should Christians abandon government or refuse participation? Not at all; Pastor Babij rightly challenged us on Sunday from the Scripture to engage righteously with government as Christians for the Lord’s sake (Eccl 3:12, 17; Rom 13:1-2). The key, though, is that Christians must not look for too much from government or devote themselves to it. Today’s governments will fail, frustrate, and ultimately pass away, but Christ and his kingdom will last forever. We must set our hope on Christ’s government, not man’s.
Hebrews 11:6 (NASB95), But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.
Questions to Consider:
1. What takes up more of your time, thought, and energy: a vaporous political cause or Christ’s everlasting cause?
2. If your hopes for our current government are dashed, can you remain content and confident in Christ?
3. What is the difference between righteous participation in government and idolatrous preoccupation with it?