January 19, 2012

Productivity vs. the Bramble Man

Category: Politics :: Permalink

In an election year, there are a number of temptations we need to beware of.  We may be tempted to think that the only way to avert catastrophe is by getting the right man elected as president. We may begin to think that what’s happening with the candidates is the “real action,” as if the race to the White House is the most significant thing that will happen this year in the battle between right and wrong, good and evil, the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man.  We may even begin to wonder about other Christians who don’t seem to get as excited about politics as we do, who carry on with their ordinary lives as if they’ve never heard of any of the candidates:  “Don’t they care?  Don’t they see how important this stuff is?”

In Judges 9, Gideon’s son Jotham tells a parable.  His half-brother Abimelech has murdered all of Gideon’s other sons and is in the process of being acclaimed king, but Jotham wants Israel to know that Abimelech is a bramble.  The trees, says Jotham, wanted a king and so they asked the olive tree, the fig tree, and the vine, but each time the tree they wanted turned them down.  Why?  Too busy with productive work and no desire to “go and wave over the trees.”  Finally, they ask the bramble — Abimelech — and he’s only to glad to “wave over the trees.”

We learn a lot from this parable, and it’s surprising to me that there’s no reference to it in the works of political theology I’ve consulted.   Jim Jordan summarizes the teaching of the parable this way, and I quote it because it explained a lot for me:

The point of the parable is that good men do not desire to lord it over others.  Good men are happy being productive for God and for their fellowmen.  They realize that the road to greatness is the way of the servant, as their Lord taught (Mark 10:42-45).  The only kind of men who desire political authority for its own sake are bramble men — unproductive men who seek to attain fame and fortune by taking it from others who are productive.

The political inactivity of Christians and of their sometime fellow travellers, the conservatives, in our modern society is partly explained by this parable.  Christians are oriented to serving God and  man through work in the marketplace.  Their satisfaction comes through productivity.  They believe that the solution for modern social problems is faith in God and hard, productive work.  Unfortunately, most modern men look to the state, to the bramble, for answers.

Those who greatly desire to be kings are usually the least qualified for the post.  Far wiser government generally comes from those who only reluctantly shoulder the heavy burdens of office.  The good wise trees were reluctant; the bramble was anxious to rule.  — James B. Jordan, Judges: A Practical and Theological Commentary, 166 (emphasis added).

While all three paragraphs here are important, the second one in particular jumped out at me.  Why aren’t more Christians worked up about politics?  Why don’t more Christians run for office?   One answer may be that they’re involved in other important stuff.  Christians are doing their jobs, but their time and strength is also taken up with worshiping God, teaching their kids, playing with their kids, working in the garden, reading a good story, taking care of the needy, cooking meals, cleaning up messes, having coffee with friends  — doing all kinds of things that bring joy to God and man (like the vine in the parable, whose wine makes God happy when poured out in worship and makes man happy at a feast).


Posted by John Barach @ 1:38 pm | Discuss (1)

One Response to “Productivity vs. the Bramble Man”

  1. Kata Iwannhn » Productivity vs. the Bramble Man [Christians & Politics] « Musgo Stew Says:

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