During this election season, so often we ask or are asked the question, “Who are you going to vote for?”
Yet is there not a more elementary question we should be asking?
What is a vote?
How would you answer that question? Though not often discussed explicitly by politicians and pundits, it is not difficult to discern what the majority of people think voting means in our culture. Here briefly are three common expressions of what Americans consider a vote to be.
A right granted by the Constitution – Our nation exists as a democratic republic, with the citizens granted the right to vote. For instance, Article 1 tells us “The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States…” Amendment 15 extended the right to vote to all types of people: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” The 26th Amendment brought the voting age down: “The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.” Though it is interesting to note, as one website points out, that “the Constitution never explicitly ensures the right to vote, as it does the right to speech for instance,” clearly this is an inherent Constitutional right – what many people consider a vote to be.
A choice made by an individual – Heard more vociferously in this narcissistic age is the upholding of a person’s right to make choices that are in his or her best interest. The appeal for this right to choose is often made not so much from the Constitution, or from God, but from nature and especially from the individual. Perhaps we see this most clearly in the abortion debate, as the case for abortion is based in many minds on the chilling idea that each person has the right to make what they believe are their own self-beneficial choices. Our current vice president speaks for many when he is quoted as saying, “My position is that I am personally opposed to abortion, but I don’t think I have a right to impose my view on the rest of society…I will not vote to curtail a woman’s right to choose abortion.” In the same manner, people view the ability to participate in elections as an inherent right to choose. The United Nation’s International Declaration of Human Rights says that one of “the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family” is that “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.” This type of thinking permeates our culture.
A decision influencing political outcomes – If you listen closely to people talking about voting, they will often describe their voting as a way of influencing the government. Vote tallies for candidates are often viewed as a referendum on the major issues the candidate stood for, be it a rejection of them with a loss or a confirmation in a victory. When neither of the nominations of both political parties for a particular office represent a voter’s views, you will hear people say they will vote for the “lesser of two evils.” The rationale is often offered as “I must vote for Candidate So-and-So in order to keep such-and-such from happening.” People in democratic societies place a high premium on their right to vote as it represents to them their ability to impact policy.
Each one of these popular ways of thinking of a vote can have elements of truth in them. Obviously there are components of rights, choices, and decisions in our votes. Yet is the following not a deeper sense of what a vote is?
A means of expressing the will – This may not sound different from other aspects such as choice or decision, but defining a vote with respect to the will speaks more to the heart of voting. The word vote comes from the Latin votum, meaning “a vow.” Originally this word was used to describe vows and the accompanying offerings made to deities or emperors. In the Bible, votive offerings were sacrifices made to God voluntarily or willingly by the worshiper. So one chief answer to “What is a vote?” should be that it is a means of expressing the will or, in essence, it is a vow of support for the candidate.
Now a voter may want to express his will to show he regards his constitutional rights as important, or how it is that he wants a candidate to benefit him, or that he hopes to influence the government. As stated, each of these can have some legitimacy. Yet for a Christian, when it comes to expressing the will of his heart, what is to be the chief influence on it? Is not the Christian’s will to be an expression of what he believes is the will of God? Is not everything the believer does to be sanctified by prayer, especially the prayer that cries out, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”?
When we speak here of the will of God, we do not mean His decretive will, or what He in the mystery of His sovereign plans brings to pass. We know that God places even evil persons in power as His chastening rod for the nations. By His decretive will the Lord said of the Persian ruler Cyprus more than a century before his birth, “He is my shepherd and he shall fulfill all my purpose” (Isaiah 44:28). There was no changing that vow! Indeed, “the (bal)lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:1). When voting, we are not trying to predict what the Lord has already decided the outcome will be.
Rather, when speaking of a Christian expressing God’s will in his voting, we are speaking of God’s preceptive will. This is what God has revealed to us that He desires in the Bible on a matter at hand. He has much to say about rulers, judges, and kings regarding their character and His expectations of them. How would prayerfully considering such verses as the following affect you as you seek to express the will of the Lord in the voting booth?
- I Samuel 8:18, “Then you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day.”
- I Samuel 16:7, “But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.’”
- Psalm 2:10-12, “Now therefore, O kings, show discernment; take warning, O judges of the earth. Worship the LORD with reverence and rejoice with trembling. Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!”
- Psalm 33:12-20, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom He has chosen for His own inheritance. The LORD looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men; from His dwelling place He looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, He who fashions the hearts of them all, He who understands all their works. The king is not saved by a mighty army; a warrior is not delivered by great strength. A horse is a false hope for victory; nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength. Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, on those who hope for His lovingkindness, to deliver their soul from death and to keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield.”
- Psalm 146:3-4, “Do not trust in princes, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation. His spirit departs, he returns to the earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.”
- Proverbs 16:10, “A divine decision is in the lips of the king; his mouth should not err in judgment.”
- Proverbs 20:28, “Loyalty and truth preserve the king, and he upholds his throne by righteousness.”
- Proverbs 25:6, “Take away the wicked before the king, and his throne will be established in righteousness.”
- Proverbs 29:4, “The king gives stability to the land by justice, but a man who takes bribes overthrows it.”
- John 5:23, “He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.”
Answering “What is a vote?” may help you answer “Who will you vote for?”