WAYPOINTS: Ship of State

The Rev. Mike Hesse

Question, “Have you ever wondered where the term, “Ship of State” comes from?” Answer, “From a Greek philosopher named Plato who lived some 300 years before the birth of Jesus.” In Plato’s Republic, he weighs in about the politics of a democracy. In his analogy, the ship is the state, the captain (who is a little deaf, poor sighted and without much knowledge about navigation) represents the majority of ordinary people in a democracy, and the sailors are the politicians who unscrupulously compete for the helm though they, too, are incompetent navigators. Judging that neither the common folk nor the politicians have the skills to run the ship, Plato opines that the proper navigators are the “stargazers”, the ones who understand the seasons, the sky, the stars and the wind. These are the philosopher-kings who would rule wisely, rationally, thoughtfully — and absolutely!

Plato was a brilliant thinker, but his analysis of the common folk is interesting. He didn’t believe that the ordinary man has enough discipline and intelligence to become informed when choosing his leaders. He thought us too prone to choose based on popularity, looks and rhetoric. He was convinced that we elect those who pander to our baser desires, and thus get ourselves in deep trouble time and again. His answer is that the few, the very few, wise men should rule and the rest of us should be pleased with that concept.

Was he right? Are we incapable of recognizing and choosing leaders for ourselves who are learned navigators and brimful with integrity? Are we dolts who are either too vapid to understand the moral, ethical, economic and political issues at hand, or too slothful to try? It is clear that in this Ship of State we call America there are a number of politicians who unscrupulously compete for the helm betting that the electorate is exactly as Plato describes. If they are right, then our days as a great nation are numbered.

Our forefathers were led to fashion us as a constitutional republic — a representative democracy where we elect wise representatives to make policy decisions on our behalf. We were never intended to be “ruled” by anyone. Nor were we to understand ourselves as a pure democracy where all issues were put to everyone for a vote. There can be as much tyranny in the majority as in any ruler. No, we have a Constitution which allows us all a voice in the election of our leaders who then live by the limitations and responsibilities placed on them by our guiding document. If our leaders prove to be men of wisdom and integrity we can re-elect them. If they prove unworthy of the public trust we can throw them out and elect someone who is.

What does all this have to do with the Christian faith? Much in every way.

First and foremost, believers recognize that we are a nation under God. This country belongs to Him and He, alone, is worthy of our devotion.

Second, we are well aware of the human capacity for sin. This means we are called to be watchmen on the wall when it comes to our government. Our constant prayer must be for discernment as we listen to those in office and to those running for office. Is their word their bond? Is there enough humility in them to admit their mistakes as well as celebrate their successes? Do they understand the value of all human life and stand up for those who have no voice? Do they have enough experience to navigate our Ship of State through stormy and often treacherous waters? Do they understand themselves as servants, first of the Lord and then of the people? Or do they show themselves to be something else?

Third, we stand up personally and publicly for what we believe, offering our elected officials both encouragement and correction — and that includes voting!

Last of all, and sometimes most difficult of all, we pray! We pray for our nation to turn back to the Lord. We pray for our leaders. The Lord has charged us to respect the office of those in authority and pray for them as individuals. We elected them. For good or ill, God is inclined to give us the desires of our hearts.

Food for thought as we head toward Nov. 6.

The Rev. Mike Hesse is senior pastor of Immanuel Anglican Church in Destin.