Is the country headed down the tubes? It sure seems that way. The sanity quotient is going down and the spitefulness quotient is going up. The anecdotal evidence is overwhelming.
Consider, for example, the U.S. diplomat who mentioned D-Day as illustrative of the long history and strong relationship our nation has with Germany. Or the congressmen who worried Guam would tip over and capsize. He later said he was joking, but who knows? As far as spitefulness goes, there was the New York congressman who threatened to break a reporter in half and throw him off a balcony because he dared to ask an unsolicited question.
Would you agree that people in government these days are crazier and meaner than ever before—that things are rapidly going downhill?
If you would agree, history suggests that you shouldn’t. There have always been crazy, mean people in government and there have always been wise and kind people in government, just as there are now.
The biblical writer Luke, a doctor with a historian’s temperament and approach, listed the imperial and state rulers who were in office when John the Baptist (and, a short while later, Jesus) appeared on the scene. He first mentions Tiberius Caesar, the Roman Emperor at the time.
Tiberius was an effective general in his early years, but as his reign progressed his mental health deteriorated. He began to spend less time in the Capitol and more time at his vacation retreat on the Isle of Capri, where his reputation for sexual deviancy was well-known. The philosopher-statesman Seneca wrote that Tiberius became increasingly rude and insulting. His paranoia became apparent. He had people executed merely because they said things he didn’t like.
Then there is Pontius Pilate. He was the Roman prefect of Judea who ordered Jesus’s execution. The Jews hated him, and petitioned Tiberius to recall him. When Pilate illegally used treasury money and the people responded with mass protests, he sent troops into the streets in plain clothes with orders to infiltrate the protestors and kill as many as possible. It was a massacre. Tiberius sent an official reprimand but did not have Pilate removed from office.
Luke also mentions Herod Antipas, who ordered the arrest and, later, the beheading of John the Baptist. Antipas was power-hungry, sly, and always in debt. In a power play, he accused his own nephew of crimes against the empire, but his nephew outsmarted him and convinced the emperor to arrest Antipas and install him on the throne in his place.
Luke includes local office holders Annas and Caiaphas as well. Annas had held Israel’s most powerful and esteemed position, the office of high priest, for years. When he left office, he managed to get his son Eleazar appointed. When Eleazar left office, Annas got his son-in-law Caiaphas the high priesthood. When Caiaphas left, he got four more of his sons into the high priest’s chair. The old man never left the stage. He merely went behind the curtain and pulled the strings.
If we were living during Tiberius’s reign, we would have been saying, “What’s the world coming to? Look at the people in office! The country is headed down the drain.” Things really haven’t changed – that’s the bad news. The good news is that God hasn’t changed either. He was at work in that world bringing good and he is at work in this world doing the same.
One deduction to be drawn from this historical survey is that it is a mistake to put trust in the high and mighty rather than in the Most High and the Almighty. The psalmist wrote, “Do not put your trust in princes…” Were he writing in our day, he would say, “Do not put your trust in politicians” or, perhaps, “Do not put your trust in celebrities” or “business leaders.” Help them? Certainly. Work for them? Maybe. Put your trust in them? Not a good idea.
History should also teach us that hope rarely springs from a seat of government. It usually comes through ordinary people. When governments fail and rulers disappoint, God is not flummoxed and we must not be either. He has already made preparations and will send help. It might even come through us.
First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 12/15/2018