Editor’s Note: Tom Beutel, a regular contributor to PeaceSigns, is Professor Emeritus of Computer Science at Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Mount Vernon, Ohio. Balancing Acts is a monthly feature of PeaceSigns.
by Tom Beutel
Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities,
to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one,
to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.
(Titus 3:1-2, NIV)
Although there does not seem to be a definitive explanation of the origin of the idea of seeing a glass half-full or half-empty, the following appeared in the Los Angeles Times on Feb. 26, 1933:
Two men were looking at a bottle of milk. Said one with a groan, “The bottle is half empty.” Said the other with a grin, “The bottle is half full.” The first belonged to the courters of disasters, forever bemoaning their losses; the second to the invincibles who win by counting their blessings. http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/ads-l/2004-December/044115.html
According to Wikipedia,
“Is the glass half empty or half full? is a common expression, a proverbial phrase, generally used rhetorically to indicate that a particular situation could be a cause for optimism (half full) or pessimism (half empty), or as a general litmus test to simply determine an individual’s worldview. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Is_the_glass_half_empty_or_half_full%3F
Both of these explanations bring out the point that one’s perspective of a situation may be as significant as the situation itself. The Wikipedia definition relates one’s tendency to see a situation optimistically or pessimistically to their worldview, how they see things in general.
There are many situations in peacemaking, and in life in general, in which we need to make a choice between two alternatives neither of which seems particularly good. As with most things, each choice embodies both positive and negative characteristics or outcomes. So, we decide to choose “the lesser of two evils.”
This is how the 2016 presidential election appears to many, perhaps even more so than previous elections. Be assured that the point of this article is not to promote one particular candidate or even to help you decide among them. Nor is it to necessarily encourage you to vote. It is – in a hopefully real way – about peacemaking in this political season.
Let’s begin with “seeing the glass half-full or half-empty.” The idea of choosing the lesser of two evils is definitely a “glass half-empty” point of view. It is the negative, pessimistic view. Some might say that it is the realistic view, but, the reality is that the glass contains half of its potential volume; “half-full” or “half-empty” are both technically true. One, however, sees the situation more optimistically than the other.
I would like to suggest a different way of looking at things. Specifically, with regard to the presidential election, could we see it as choosing “the better of two broken people.” This is more than just trying to put a good face on a bad situation, more than a somehow “politically correct” way of talking about the candidates. It acknowledges a truth that we as Christians believe, that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) We all, the candidates included, are created in the image of God, but, at the same time, we are broken, sinful people. If the candidates are “evil,” then we, too, and all of humanity, are evil. And if this is the case, then labeling the candidates as evil is meaningless.
Whenever we have to choose between two or more alternatives in this world, we will be choosing between imperfect options. Given our common brokenness, is it not more accurate, as well as more “optimistic” to see our choices as being the “better of two broken people?” Remember, too, the scripture quoted above in which Paul advises Titus to “remind the people,” among other things, “to slander no one.” To “slander no one” means no one – not either candidate, not those who support one candidate over another, not those who choose to vote or those choose not to vote – no one!
Before wrapping up, just a couple of additional points. First, whether one chooses to vote or not is, and should be considered, a personal decision. Obviously, there is nothing in the Bible that commands us to vote. Frankly, the most obvious things that the Bible has to say about government and our participation in governmental affairs are to “be subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1), and to pray for “kings and all who are in high positions.” (1 Timothy 2:2)
Voting is a cultural issue. It is a bit like the cultural issues that Paul dealt with in Romans 14, eating meat sacrificed to idols and regarding certain days as more holy than others. Paul says, “Let all be fully convinced in their own minds.” (Romans 14: 5b) Paul also instructs those on both sides of a cultural controversy. Those who are engaged in an activity (eat meat, vote, etc.) “must not despise” those who do not, and “those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who” do.
Lastly, we are encouraged through scripture, particularly the teachings in the New Testament, to pray. In 1 Timothy 2:1 Paul writes, “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone.” Everyone, of course, means everyone – friends, families, enemies, and political candidates – everyone. What does Paul urge? “Supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings” We are urged to and should pray for the candidates: for wisdom, for strength, for safety. We should pray that each candidate would see and speak the truth; that each candidate would honestly communicate their own ideas and merits rather than demeaning the other candidates. We should intercede for the candidates asking God to forgive their wrongs and to speak to their spirit, with the hope that they would be redeemed from their brokenness.
During what remains of this political season, if you choose to vote, I encourage you to see the candidates as “the better of two (or more) broken people,” to respect those who, for conscience’s sake, choose not to vote, and in any case to pray for the candidates and for the nation.