“Put not your trust in princes,” says the psalmist, “in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.” From the rest of the text, it’s clear that the admonition is not primarily about what we might call eternal salvation; there are many other texts that cover that. This one is mostly about temporal salvation, earthly goods and concerns.
The world is a bent and broken place, and the psalmist describes what God—as opposed to princes (or politicians)—does about it. Among other things, God:
- “executes justice for the oppressed”
- “gives food to the hungry”
- “sets the prisoners free”
- “lifts up those who are bowed down [or fallen]”
- “upholds the widow and the fatherless”
- “brings to ruin [the way of the wicked]”
Wrongdoers punished, the innocent protected, righteousness and justice restored. These are standard functions of government and form the honey-do lists of the politicians we support. They are tasked with protecting the weak and establishing justice. But for a variety of reasons they often fail, and some never set out to do the job in the first place.
I say this without an ounce of cynicism: To see a politician is to view disappointment incarnate. The psalmist wisely reminds us to place our trust elsewhere. And so we entrust God with our hope to see the world put to rights.
But God acts not alone in the job. Psalm 68, the Church’s great Resurrection Psalm, highlights many of these same activities of God but gives us a hint about our involvement in the work. It says that God fathers the fatherless and protects widows “in his holy habitation.” That’s a reference to the Church, to God’s people in whom he dwells through the Holy Spirit. We are partners in God’s plan to set the world to rights, whether the politicians turn up or not.
People who are taking up the needs of widows and orphans on their own, putting their trust in God, do a good and godly work. Same for people who work for social justice outside the sphere of politics. I am thinking of independent groups that fund and dig wells in Africa; of a Texas woman who founded an orphanage in Uganda; of a priest who has been serving the poor and disenfranchised of Kansas City for decades. These people did what was right regardless of the politicians. They trusted in God and then labored with the Lord in his work.
When politicians seem to pander to the worst elements, seem to promise things we know they cannot deliver, and seem to use their public role to advance their private ambitions, they only confirm what we should know by now: There is no salvation in princes. If God can use them, all for the good, but don’t put your trust in them. Instead, let’s take inspiration from those who are already partnering with God and doing their part to spread hope and restoration in our broken world.