One of the best concepts we espouse in the United States is the idea of self government. At election time, it’s good to take this idea as far as possible, and remember that we all do govern ourselves—our individual thoughts and actions. No one can actually force you to do or think anything. Yes, you can choose to abdicate self-government. Yes, they can make something look so attractive that you think you can’t resist. Yes, someone can hold a gun to your head and give you strong incentive to do as they please. But, in fact, you are still in the driver’s seat in your own thoughts and responses.
Just remembering this puts other people’s actions and words in a new light. It keeps us from feeling victimized by circumstances or election outcomes because we know we can always govern our response to them.
In a tumultuous election season, it is helpful to me to remember how Jesus illustrated self-government. How did he relate to the government of his time? He acted with great originality, compassion, and freedom, yet followed the secular laws of the land. He managed an inspiring career even while operating under government oppression, both ecclesiastical and secular.
Jesus taught his followers to distinguish between government’s demands and God’s requirements. He said, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.” He made clear to his followers that they always have choices. When government requires you to walk a mile with a Roman soldier, Jesus taught that we can choose to walk two miles. This power of choice makes the whole idea of government compulsion look entirely different. When you know you have choices, even money required to pay taxes becomes available from unexpected sources, such as finding it in a fish’s mouth you pull out while fishing.
Jesus chose to go through crucifixion, in part to make the right kind of self government crystal clear. Whatever human governments thought to accomplish by taking away Jesus’ right to life, only extended his life and influence.
I take comfort from his example in the less earth-shaking decisions I have to make for my own life. I pray for my country and desire the best for all of its citizens. I trust that no matter what the outcome of the elections we are holding today, my individual right of self-government will continue unabated. An election may give me more outer pressures and constraints to deal with, but the power of choosing what I think and do will remain.
Mary Baker Eddy developed a strong sense of self-government from her reverence for Jesus and her close following of civic affairs. She wrote,
“Certain elements in human nature would undermine the civic, social, and religious rights and laws of nations and peoples, striking at liberty, human rights, and self-government — and this, too, in the name of God, justice, and humanity! These elements assail even the new-old doctrines of the prophets and of Jesus and his disciples. History shows that error repeats itself until it is exterminated. Surely the wisdom of our forefathers is not added but subtracted from whatever sways the sceptre of self and pelf over individuals, weak provinces, or peoples. Here our hope anchors in God who reigns, and justice and judgment are the habitation of His throne forever.” (from her Message for 1900 pg. 10)
Like Jesus, if we keep God’s just and benign government in mind constantly, it enables us to govern our own lives more justly and benevolently. “Self and pelf” (pelf means money, especially money gained in a dishonest or dishonorable way) have less influence. I have developed a balance and resilience, a hope and faith in the good over many years of considering what it means to be properly self-governed in my own life. I continue to take heart from this passage from Eddy’s book, Science and Health,
“God has endowed man with inalienable rights, among which are self-government, reason, and conscience. Man is properly self-governed only when he is guided rightly and governed by his Maker, divine Truth and Love.” SH pg 106