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Is it a sin not to vote in a country’s general election?

This much is true: we are commanded to pray for our government. “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.” (1 Timothy 2:1–2) 

But we also know that God ordains both the means and the ends: the end result that you are requesting in prayer and the various means to achieve that end. To ask for the result and then to fail to perform required human duties is bad faith.

For example, we are told to pray for our daily bread (Mat. 6:11). We are also told that if a man will not work, he shall not eat (2 Thes. 3:10). We must pray for money and we must seek work.

We are told to pray for the salvation of souls (2 Thes. 3:1). We are told that we must make disciples and preach the Gospel to every creature (Matt. 28:19, Mk. 16:15), and that people will not believe without the preaching of the Gospel (Romans 10:13-17). We must pray for the advance of the gospel and we must evangelise.

We are told to pray for deliverance from the Evil One (Mat. 6:13). We are also told not to give place to the devil (Eph 4:26-27), nor to be ignorant of his traps and devices (2 Cor 3:11). We must ask for protection from the Evil One and we must actively resist Satan.

We could enumerate many other examples of how prayer is not a substitute for action, but one of the means we take to see God’s will done upon earth. To expect God to act, while refusing to act in the human realm is “putting the Lord your God to the test”. To ask God for angelic rescue after throwing yourself off a four-storey building is not an act of faith in the power of prayer. It’s presumptive (attempted) manipulation of the sovereignty of God, demanding an overruling act of God to make up for your foolish act, or your failure to act.

Those who do not vote, when nothing prevents them from doing so, may not be tempting God in the same extreme fashion. But if they ask God for a good government under which Christians can live quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty, and then do not cast a vote, they are in the same position as the man praying for conversions and never witnessing. They are like the man beseeching God for food and shelter, and then passively sitting on the couch all day.

After all, in a democracy, what is the ordained means of selecting a government? It is a popular vote. If you lived in an absolute monarchy, your prayers might have no accompanying human action that God requires, since the king would be installed by sheer primogeniture. But in a democracy, your vote is to 1 Timothy 2:1-2 what your evangelistic conversation is to praying for someone’s salvation.

All the arguments I hear against voting sound suspiciously like a hyper-Calvinist’s arguments against evangelism. “It doesn’t make a difference”, “What will be will be”, “What difference would my action really make?” These statements sound like fatalists who have wrongly understood the sovereignty of God over all life to mean listless apathy from humans. A robust understanding of God’s sovereignty does not say “Que sera, sera” to life. It energises action towards the very thing we prayed for.

A more serious objection is “What if there is no party that represents me?” Of course, that would be a real obstacle, if it were true. I wonder though, if the person saying this is very similar to the “discerning” Christian who claims his stay-at-home-Sundays are spent that way because “there are no biblical churches out there.” On closer inspection, we find that the man’s “discernment” turns out to be fussiness combined with proud unwillingness to submit to the best thing that he can find.

Maybe no party represents you on every single point of statecraft. Surely you can submit to the next best thing? Indeed, we can be less fussy in choosing a political candidate than we would in accepting the warts and blemishes of a church to settle in. After all, a politician’s mandate is to restrain evil and protect life, not qualify as an elder or a deacon.

If there is absolutely no one in the nation who can govern the country to create a quiet and peaceable life, why pray for such a government? Are you praying for a miracle? For an invasion and takeover of our country by Christians from another country? Your prayers suggest otherwise: you could envision an improvement on the government we have if other citizens were elected. So elect them.

A Christian may choose, on election day, to spoil his vote out of conscience. But he should not be absent from the voting booths out of sheer apathy or laziness. And if he prays for a good government (since he is commanded to), he should vote for a good government.

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