Isaiah 32.1-8, 15-10
Our ideal way of governing is democracy. But that’s not Isaiah’s ideal. For him good governance is not about who governs but about how they do it. Mob rule can be just as tyrannical as despotic rule.
We forget too easily that democracy has limited value unless it goes hand in hand with the love of justice. A just society is a place of refuge in a cruel world whereas an unjust society is harsh and unforgiving even when it has democratic elections, and for how long will it be truly democratic anyway?
In a just society the citizens would make an effort to see things from other people’s point of view. They would open their eyes to see what is really going on. They would pay attention to what other people are saying.
In a just society people would take time to think before they said anything. They wouldn’t rush to judgement because rushed judgements often turn out to be profoundly unjust.
In a just society voters would recognise foolish plans for what they are. They would have a sixth sense for proposals that are self-serving and unfair, that make the poor even poorer and limit access to the knowledge that we all need if we are to become equal stakeholders in society. People would know when ideas are cruel - aimed at destroying those who need help most or denying justice to the weak, and they would instinctively realise when politicians are trustworthy and are trying to help build a better, fairer world.
This sort of society, embracing the right kind of values, would be one where it was truly worth living. It’s a vision that every government and every citizen should make their aim. But, of course, it is unachievable in the real world.
Or is it? Isaiah says not. God’s Spirit is what can make the difference between an impossible dream and an amazing reality. If we allow God’s Spirit to guide us, ‘honesty and justice will prosper and… produce lasting peace and security.’ Even when things go wrong, everyone will rally round to put them right again.
For him it doesn’t matter who brings this about. An authoritarian society that was ruled in a free and fair way would be better for Isaiah than an unjust democracy. But as the Nineteenth Century historian Lord Acton once said, ‘Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ We talk glibly about ‘the great and the good,’ but he said that ‘the great’ - by whom he meant the most powerful people in society - almost always turn out to be bad.That’s why, in the end, democracy probably gives us the best chance of creating the sort of society that Isaiah envisioned. But only spirit-led democracy can do that. Democracies led by people who tell lies and do evil things is just as likely to turn out bad as any great man or woman.