The closer we all approach voting in the November 8 elections, the more evident the sincere anxiety of many people. Understood! Both of the major candidates are deeply flawed, and yet we each need to vote because we do not want the crucial selection of the "least bad" candidates left up to everybody else!
As I was praying and meditating about this impending dilemma, I remembered some of the priceless wisdom of Ambassador Charles Habbib Malik (1906-1987), for many years the Lebanese Ambassador to the UN, co-author of the UN Charter, president of the General Assembly, president of the Security Council, and courageous primary author of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He had completed his PhD in philosophy at Harvard University and held professorships in philosophy at the American University of Beirut, Harvard University, Notre Dame University, and other distinguished universities. In addition, Dr. Malik served in cabinet positions in the Lebanese government.
Dr. Malik was also a devoted and outspoken follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. He walked with Jesus in the halls and rooms of the UN, the Lebanese government, and some great universities.
Years ago, during my first year teaching philosophy at Wheaton College, near Chicago, I heard that Dr. Malik was coming to campus early the following fall to dedicate the newly built Billy Graham Center (BGC). What great news! I had previously been so very personally moved by his exemplary leadership at the UN and by his writings.
However, when enquiring about the plan I was deeply disappointed to learn that Dr. Malik would come only to give his speech and then leave. Really? At a personal appointment with Wheaton College President Armerding, he offered to sign a letter I would write to Dr. Malik requesting for him to come a day early. I wrote the letter, the president signed it, Dr. Malik graciously agreed, and I was appointed his host for that awesome extra day of his visit. We included meetings with student government, with the philosophy club, and with the whole faculty.
It was the faculty meeting that was the most memorable and instructive — with wisdom for all of us now in 2016. It was intensely well attended with 150 professors and administrators present.
After I introduced Dr. Malik, he got up and spoke for only 5 minutes. Just as I was thinking, "What a great introduction!," he sat down! Speech over! Feeling a little awkward about the brevity of his remarks to the assembled distinguished faculty, I quickly stood back up to help orchestrate questions for him.
The first question came from the Chair of the Political Science Department: "Ambassador Malik, would you please explain to us how to integrate the Christian faith with handling present international relationships and crises."
Dr. Malik answered simply, "That is a dumb question!" Then he sat down.
The second question came from the Chair of the Philosophy Department: "Ambassador Malik, would you please explain to us how we should integrate Biblical teachings with the important role and work of the United Nations."
Dr. Malik answered curtly, "That is a very dumb question! I had thought that Wheaton was a good college!!" Then he sat down again.
Shock! Horrors! I had brought this faculty meeting together with the very highest expectations, and now two well-published, internationally known scholars who were intensely respected senior faculty leaders (including especially the esteemed head of my own department!) were publically humiliated. And Dr. Malik had now also assaulted the whole college's self-image, as well.
What to do now? I had to choose between three options:
1. Escape through a hole in the floor — but there was no hole!
2. Say that the faculty meeting was over and we could enjoy the prepared refreshments — but then there would be no resolution of this profound provocation.
3. Come up with a good question myself that Dr. Malik would answer respectfully and thoughtfully.
You guessed it! The third option was my choice. I conjectured that Dr. Malik had immediately rejected the first two questions from professors because they were much too abstract, too "library-like." Not that Dr. Malik had not spent many 1000s of hours in libraries! But he wanted to go deeper.
So I asked what I thought the two faculty leaders were really trying to seek, but now with a fresh angle. I asked on a strictly personal level: "Ambassador Malik, you have a well-deserved reputation as a devoted follower of Jesus Christ, and you also have a well-known track-record as an intensely influential international statesman. Please share with us how these two aspects of your own life come together."
Smiling, Dr. Malik immediately responded, "Great question! I am so glad you asked! These precious aspects of my life come together in two ways:
1. First, at the UN we cannot make good decisions. We are always torn between bad and very bad decisions. So while at the UN I pray earnestly to Jesus to help me and the other leaders to make the least bad decisions, still bad as they are.
2. Second, every night I am on my knees before the Lord Jesus to pray again. I ask for his gracious forgiveness for making such bad decisions, even though they were the least bad decisions we could find. And then I ask Jesus to come back to earth soon in his great power and wisdom so that we will not have to make such bad decisions all the time. In the fullness of Jesus' kingdom there will be decisions between good choices only!"
Wow! What wisdom! What a model of Godly engagement in our broken world. Dr. Malik went on to answer 10 more faculty questions, including another from me, but this awesome answer made the greatest impression on all of us.
Many faculty members hated his answer. "Too bleak," they complained. Others of us found Dr. Malik's nuanced answer both intensely brilliant and liberating!
The next day, Dr. Malik gave a stellar, widely praised and quoted BGC dedication speech, recorded and later published. Many of us were profoundly moved by that intensely relevant discourse in front of BGC, entitled The Two Tasks. More about that another day.
For now, Dr. Malik's awesome answer to my direct and personal question at the Wheaton College faculty meeting still rings true today. It is intensely relevant for us voters between now and November 8.
Here is what I recommend, drawing directly from Dr. Malik's wisdom:
1. Recognize that there may not be any good choices among the candidates. Pray earnestly for Jesus' wisdom as you consider both their political platforms and the candidates. In the wisdom the Lord gives you in answer to your prayers, select the least bad choices and vote. Hold your nose, but still vote.
2. Then, soon after, personally confess to Jesus and ask his forgiveness for making bad choices, even though they are the least bad choices. And ask Jesus to return soon to fix this world, so that we will have only good choices going forward.
And while you are still praying, I urge you to add three more relevant requests.
1. Ask Jesus please to awaken our country to his Spirit and to his eternal values including those about God's amazing grace, religious liberty, the precious value of all human life, effectual care for the poor, restorative justice, creation care, and the extraordinary sacredness of marriage bringing together one-God-one-woman-one-man.
2. Ask Jesus please to give all of us the wisdom and courage successfully to nominate better candidates for political office, going forward. We need candidates who are humble before the Lord, have integrity, and are committed to the eternal values God designed.
3. Ask the Author of Liberty to receive our sincerest thanks for this country where we can participate in civic choices.
And then let us see what God will do. Within us. Through us. For all. To the Lord's praise.