Tomorrow (Thursday 18 September) we will take part in the most important vote in our lifetime. Only once before in our country’s history has anything similar been done. That was 300 years ago and it wasn’t nearly as democratic as what will happen tomorrow. It is predicted that 80 per cent of the population of Scotland will cast a vote—either for independence or for remaining within the Union.
It has been two years since the process began. But it’s only in recent months that the debate has really taken off. Sadly, it has sometimes been acrimonious with friends and family falling out with one another. And the fear is that after tomorrow that acrimony will continue for it seems that approximately half the population are going to be bitterly disappointed by the outcome.
What about Christians? What has our role been in all this? It’s been good to see the churches hosting debates. Murdo Fraser and John Mason, both MSPs on opposite sides of the argument, have been models of how Christians can disagree on such a fundamental political issue, while remaining and behaving as brothers in Christ.
It has generally been agreed that there is no specific Biblical guidance as to how Christians should vote tomorrow. The Bible was written at a time when kings and queens ruled the nations, when empires rose and fell. What we are told is that whatever system of government we live under we are to be the best citizens. The prophet Jeremiah wrote to the exiles in Babylon (Jeremiah 29:7): seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it because if it prospers you too will prosper.
The Apostle Peter says (1 Peter 2:13): Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king as the supreme authority or to governors who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.
And in 1 Timothy 2: 1 and 2 the Apostle Paul encourages us to pray for everyone: for kings and all those in authority that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.
I want you to note carefully why Paul says we should pray specifically for our political rulers: that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.
Our desire as Christians is for peaceful and quiet lives, the kind of lives that promote godliness and holiness. When he says peaceful and quiet Paul doesn’t mean a trouble-free life. If that were the case his own prayers were singularly unsuccessful! He’s talking about civil peace, peace in society. Freedom from the kind of civil disorder that prevents the gospel spreading.
We get a good example of what he is talking about in Acts 19. The location is Ephesus, and such is the success of Paul’s preaching that the local silversmiths, who earn a living from making statues of the goddess Artemis, fear for the future of their business. So they start to riot, calling for the Christians to be expelled.
The town clerk brings the crowd under control, reasoning with them, and dismissing them. We read in Acts 20:1: After the uproar had ended, Paul sent for the disciples, and after encouraging them, said good-bye and set out for Macedonia. It was only after the riot had been brought under control by the town authorities that the Christians could meet together in safety. But sadly Paul could no longer stay there, he had to move on.
We pray for our rulers because they have the power to enforce law and order which is necessary for society to function in general, and for the church to flourish in particular. That’s why our prayers for everyone, and especially our prayers for kings and those in authority, is good and pleases God our Saviour.
So what can we pray about for tomorrow? You have your preference—yes or no. To pray for one result over another is to pray for your will to be done. Not God’s—because God hasn’t revealed his will in this matter. Furthermore, to pray one way or the other would be to exclude others from saying a hearty “amen”. What can we pray that will allow all of us to say “amen”?
The Apostle talks about requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving. We can begin with thanksgiving—thanking the Lord for the many blessings that are ours, both temporal and spiritual. We can be thankful that we live in a country where the rule of law is observed. And that the decision about our future is in our hands and is not being imposed upon us.
I hope too that there will be an element of confession. As a nation we have wandered far from God’s righteousness, increasingly so in recent years. As the people of God in Scotland we’ve lost some of our saltiness. Our witness has grown weak and tired. Why is the church not listened to as it once was? Is it because we have lost credibility?
As for intercessions, let me suggest four areas to focus on:
First, we can pray for a peaceful acceptance of the outcome; that those who are disappointed by the outcome will not resort to violence.
Second, we can pray for reconciliation between family and friends where there have been fall-outs and fights.
Third, we can pray for godly government, whether as an independent country or as we continue part of the union. We want to be ruled by people who truly have the interests of everyone at heart, especially the weak and the vulnerable. We can pray for a fair and just society.
Fourth, we can pray that whatever the future holds politically, we will continue to be free to worship, to witness, to express ourselves without fear that the state will intervene to stop us.
Proverbs 14:34: Righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a disgrace to any people.
Pray that Scotland would be characterised by righteousness—by a right relationship with God; a humble attitude that recognizes that our spiritual heritage is not the least of our many blessings. Pray that the people of Scotland would realize that the solution to our problems—our deepest problems—does not lie in politics or economics, not even in education, but in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Rev Ian Watson is minister of Hope Church Blackwood and Kirkmuirhill in South Lanarkshire.