Democratic societies, such as Canada, require the critical engagement of its members—to vote, to run for political office, and to engage in all forms of advocacy in between. So how does one discern the call to engage in advocacy in the form of pursuing political office? This first article in the series on “Faith & Politics: Lessons from Moses” explores the answer to this very question, and addresses many implications of the discernment process. Does God actually call believers to political involvement? Or might we be deceived by ulterior ambitions? Scripture sheds considerable light on questions such as these, particularly through the life of Moses.
Calling begins long before any burning bush. We can first recognize the particular calling placed on Moses in his providential positioning—in his unique position in infancy, personal and cultural heritage, and external circumstances. Moses would eventually be called of God to perform specific political and spiritual tasks, liberating the Israelites from bondage in Egypt and communicating the laws of God to them. But he was first born into a Hebrew family, miraculously rescued from the waters of the Nile by an Egyptian princess, and raised by his own mother in Pharaoh’s household. (Exodus 2:1-12).What, then, does one’s positioning by birth, personal and cultural heritage, and circumstances suggest in terms of possible future political and spiritual activity?
In my case, I was raised in both an evangelical Christian home and a political home; my father was elected to the Alberta Legislature in the midst of the Great Depression and served there for 33 years, 25 as Premier. Although my father never encouraged me to become directly active in the political sphere, I absorbed enough of politics, government, and western Canadian political history to have a sense of the most appropriate time to enter politics—especially if one wanted to create a new political movement in the western Canadian tradition.
We must, of course, exercise caution—which demands spiritual discernment—in interpreting any providential leading from one’s positioning by birth, personal and cultural heritage, or circumstances. For every Moses, you can point to another instance in which there was little by way of this kind of positioning. For instance, there is little to suggest that the shepherd boy David was being prepared to be King of Israel (other than that herding sheep is good preparation for politics, as some cynics have suggested). Yet David became one of God’s greatest political and spiritual leaders. We need wisdom to interpret where our positioning might—or might not—be providentially leading us.
Moses’ Future Mission
Having found himself in a providential position, there is much Moses still did not know about his calling or future mission. What Moses does see from where he stands is the injustice being done to his own people by the Egyptians and amongst the Israelites themselves. In response to this, something—one might argue divine prompting—impels him to do something, to take action, to intervene. However, his intervention fails, and this failure of his first attempt to exert political leadership shakes to the core his self-confidence as a potential liberator and leader of Israel. As a result, Moses is forced to flee Egypt and begins a forty-year exile in Midian herding sheep on the backside of the desert (Exodus 2:11-23).
For someone who seems to be providentially positioned to intervene where there truly is injustice, Moses’ situation raises some questions. First of all, should Moses have waited on God for more specific leading and instruction on the how (God’s way) and the when (God’s timing) of the liberation of Israel? Secondly, was this a necessary step in Moses’ journey as a leader? It might be argued that Moses’ confidence in himself as a potential liberator and leader of Israel needed to be shaken to the core before God could use him in such capacities.
Applying these considerations to our own situations, we can ask, How inclined are we to wait on God until we have clear direction, and how do we reconcile this need to wait with the apparent need to seize an opportunity? Secondly, where, what, or who is the source of that confidence in our ability to contribute or lead politically? These are questions with which I have wrestled, and that wrestling has led me to the realization that in politics “timing is everything.” There is a time to take advantage of the situation and a time to wait patiently. As Shakespeare more eloquently put it:
There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
--Brutus, in Julius Caesar, Act 4 Scene 3
My own approach to discerning correct timing was that when I saw a long-run political opportunity on the distant horizon I would question whether this “revelation” was God-given or not. Then, unless otherwise directed, I would pray for God’s guidance and blessing on the seizure of the opportunity.
Moses’ Direct Calling
In addition to the positional calling Moses received, he also received what might be called a direct calling—the story of the burning bush. In fact, God’s communication with Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 4) is perhaps the seminal experience of God’s direct calling in Moses’ life.
Importantly, God begins by giving Moses a special revelation of himself. It is at the burning bush that God reveals himself to Moses as the eternally present one—the “I Am” (Exodus 3:13-15). This is the first of four special revelations of the nature and character of God received by Moses during his lifetime, which we will continue to explore throughout this series.
One might conclude, therefore, that a fresh revelation of the nature and character of God is a key dimension of any direct calling. In Moses’ case—as in the commissioning of Isaiah (Isaiah 6)—the I Am of God precedes the call to go and do. The revelation precedes the receiving of the particular assignment. (This is a concept that will be explored further in the next article of the series.)
Having revealed himself in a spectacular way, God then informs Moses what he is doing, and what he intends to do with respect to the liberation of Israel (Exodus 7:3-10). Having heard what God is doing, Moses’ assignment is to join in—to partner, as it were—with God in the liberating work. This way of working is quite different from Moses’ first undertaking to liberate Israel independent of God’s help. In particular, God tells Moses that he has come down to liberate his people and will bring them to the Promised Land. Moses is instructed to return to Egypt so that he can join in this work and help bring it about.
We can thus see God’s revelation of what he himself is doing as a second dimension of Moses’ direct calling because it allows Moses to join in that work. This same theme was emphasized by Jesus himself when he explained his own calling to “the very work that the Father has given me to finish” (John 5:36). As he says earlier, “My Father is always at work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” Furthermore, “the Son can do nothing by himself; he can only do what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does, the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son, and shows him all he does” (John 5:17-20). What an incredible challenge this is to all of us with the desire to change the world and address the injustices that we see.
Moses’ reaction to this direct call is also instructive and not what one would expect from someone who once aspired to leadership. Moses, his self-confidence long ago shattered and further diminished by forty years of herding sheep far from any circle of political influence, professes himself to be incapable of doing what Jehovah demands and pleads with Him to “send someone else.” (Exodus 4:1-17)
With respect to this concept of a direct calling to political action, I must confess to personally having no clear sense of a direct calling to enter federal politics or to found a new political party, though I employed the usual Christian tools for attempting to discern God’s will on these matters: prayer, searching the Scriptures for guidance, and consulting fellow believers. And without in any way suggesting that my own experience is exemplary or denying that there is such a thing as a direct calling, my inclination is again to advise caution—caution demanding spiritual discernment—if one thinks that one has received such a direct calling to political action.
My inclination to advise caution comes from my experience of those who profess to having received such a calling more often than not being deceived. They have read into the call of God what is really the call of personal political ambition, the call of one’s friends and supporters, or the call of political opportunity or necessity. For example, I knew an Alberta politician (Alberta is Canada’s leading producer of oil and natural gas) who was sure he had seen a “burning bush” when in fact it turned out to be a gas flare. Again, this should raise questions for us. Does God, for instance, directly call believers to spiritually motivated political action today? And, how can one distinguish between a divine calling and other callings?
The Call to Be as Distinct from the Call to Do
There is much more to the story of Scripture, however, than just the call to do. Since leaving the active political arena and having more time to reflect on these matters than when in the heat of battle, I have been led to give much more weight to another kind of calling. It is the call to be as distinct from the call to do—the call to be a person motivated and shaped by the person of Jesus and to an intimate relationship with Him. It is out of this deeper call that the call to do will eventually flow.
The call to be is embedded throughout the biblical story. I find it particularly significant that the Apostle Peter (a man of action if there ever was one), in the light of cataclysmic predictions concerning the destruction of the current world order, did not give early believers a to-do list. Rather he said, “Since all these things are going to happen [my paraphrase], what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming” (II Peter 3:11). The same call is made to us today, in spite of whatever cataclysmic predictions might be made around us.
In conclusion, I believe that there is such a thing as God’s call to do—including the call to political service like Moses at the burning bush. That said, I think such callings are relatively rare and require great discernment to distinguish the true from the false. Even more importantly, however, there is the call to be—the call to be the kind of people God wants us to be. This is the higher calling out of which the call to action in partnership with God will flow. This all leads me to the concluding question upon which I urge reflection and application to our own lives: Have we heard and responded to the call to be?
This is a call most clearly described by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, and with which I will conclude this article:
I urge you to live a life worthy
of the calling you have received.
Be completely humble, be gentle, be patient, bearing with one another in love…
Be no longer infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching…
Instead (be truthful), speaking the truth in love.
Put off the old self…and be made new in the attitude of your minds…
Put on the new self…be like God in true righteousness.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you…
Be imitators of God, as dearly loved children, and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us…
Be very careful then how you live…
Be wise not unwise, making the most of every opportunity…
Be not foolish but understanding what the will of the Lord is…
Be filled with the Spirit…
Be thankful to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
--Ephesians 4:1-3, 14, 23-24, 32; 5:1-2, 15, 17-18, 20
- Note that it was the failure to wait which would later doom the leadership of Saul, Israel’s first king, to both spiritual and political failure (I Samuel 13:1-15).
Biography of Preston Manning
Preston Manning works with the MI on the development and communication of faith-informed approaches to political leadership and public policy, including new approaches to the intersection of faith with democratic governance, the market economy, pluralism and multiculturalism, science and technology, and environmental stewardship.
Preston served as a member of the Canadian House of Commons from 1993 to 2001, part of which he served as his party’s critic for Science, Technology and Innovation. He founded two new political parties—the Reform Party of Canada and the Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance—and was the Leader of the Official Opposition from 1997 to 2000. Preston also has 20 years of experience as an owner and manager of a consulting firm specializing mainly in strategic planning and communications advice to the energy sector. In 2005, he founded the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, which supports research, educational, and communications initiatives designed to achieve a more democratic society in Canada guided by conservative principles.
Source: Marketplace Institute