Christian Living Stories: He’s Only Human

Well, the election is over and America has a new president-elect. Soon he will take office, and on his shoulders will fall the full weight of leadership. He has made promises, and we will expect him to keep them. Of course, he will not be able to — not all of them, anyway. That is too much to expect of any human being. The modern world is too complex and unpredictable. So, once the political honeymoon is over, the new president can expect to feel the wrath of those who feel he has let them down.

So this might be a good moment to remind you of the example of Kjell Magne Bondevik.


You mean you have never heard of him? Of course you haven’t. He was Prime Minister of Norway between 1997 and 2001, and Norwegian politics do not often make the news where this magazine is read. But Mr. Bondevik is unusual — in fact, probably unique — among high-ranking political leaders because he admitted that he was suffering from depression, and asked his people for time out to recover.

It is surely in our own interests to recognize the humanity of those whom we choose to govern us.

It is surely in our own interests to recognize the humanity of those whom we choose to govern us.

Norway’s state welfare and pensions are the envy of the world, but apparently some pensioners, some families with young children and people living in rural areas were nevertheless struggling. Bondevik, a committed Christian and an ordained minister, had promised to help them. However, once in office he found that he could not deliver on his election pledge, and it troubled him that he had let his people down. So he asked for some time out to recover.

In most countries this would have been political suicide. But Norwegians are a decent lot, and to their great credit they rallied around their stricken leader. Politicians set aside their own quarrels, and 82 percent of the Norwegian people agreed that the prime minister was right to admit to his human inadequacy. The result was that Mr. Bondevik recovered and went on to become one of his country’s most successful leaders.

At the other end of the scale are countries that give their leaders almost divine status. When North Korea’s “Great Leader” Kim Il Sung died some years ago, they solved the problem of succession by re-electing him as Eternal President. Maybe there is an idea here. Rather than go through the complexities of electing a president every four years, why not just pick a great one and install him once and for all? Ronald Reagan maybe, or perhaps John Kennedy. How about Abraham Lincoln or George Washington?

But seriously, it is surely in our own interests to recognize the humanity of those whom we choose to govern us. Unless they are callous brutes, they will surely feel moments of self-doubt, fear and anxiety. Their feelings can be hurt, their hopes dashed and bruised. But they are not allowed to show it. Every flicker of doubt, every moment of indecision, is pounced on as evidence of their unfitness for the job. Woe betides the leader of most nations if they dared admit that the strain was getting to be too much and asked for time to recover.

The world has become a dangerous place, and we are heading into some treacherous and uncharted waters. The burdens of office, soon to fall on the shoulders of Barack Obama, will be crushing. He is a decent, intelligent and educated man. But he is only human. There will be times when he will have to admit, if only to himself, that the job is getting to be too much.

The Old Testament Prophet Isaiah described a situation where his nation, tottering toward ruin two and a half millennia ago, cast about desperately for anyone who even looked like a leader: “You look like you have a head on your shoulders. Do something. Get us out of this mess” (Isaiah 3:6,Message Bible).

“And he will say ‘Me? Not me! I don’t have a clue. Don’t put me in charge of anything’” (v. 7).

Thankfully, we are not yet in that state. We have people who aspire to lead. But they are only human. So as the new president takes office, let’s remind ourselves of Paul’s instruction in 1 Timothy 2:2: “Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can be quietly about our business.”

Our President and his team need those prayers. They are, after all, only human.

Author: John Halford


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