It began with an accusation, followed by a hasty denial. Then came the media inquiry. A tearful politician looked into the camera and talked about his marital indiscretion. Asking for forgiveness from the people, he gave assurance that the same request had already been made to wife and God.
Most people can give the key figure in this story a name and an identity. The circumstances are quite similar regardless of where you live. So many of these incidents have surfaced in recent years, it has almost become a clichÃ©: the shattered leader, hat in hand, begging the people to forgive him.
It has always interested me that these tearful public confessions happen only after the smoking gun has been found. Politicians do not regularly confess their human failings on public occasions. They are much more likely to follow the self-aggrandizing example of the politician who at one point claimed to have “invented the internet.”
Accomplishments win elections, and many leaders want to claim any and all whether they are responsible or not. They project themselves as super-human servants who through dint of their own will are creating utopia on earth.
Juxtaposing this image of accomplishment against the tears of a broken person and shattered family reveals the superficial nature of politics and leadership. Admissions of weakness are the death knell of a public servant. They are fodder for opponents to start a raging fire of public anger designed to raise new leaders. Few leaders maintain their power and authority after public confession.
What if our leaders regularly, publicly admitted to their need for repentance and sought the forgiveness of both God and the people? What if rather than taking credit at public celebrations, they reminded themselves and us of their dependence rather than their power? Would they be better, more humane leaders, or would they be one-term office holders removed by the people for their weakness?
We encounter Solomon in 1 Kings 8 not on an occasion of failure but of accomplishment. How did the wisdom of Solomon shape his words and attitudes?
“Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven.” 1 Kings 8:22
Chapter 8 of 1 Kings relates the dedication of the temple. The majestic structure completed, it was a time for leaders to make speeches and take bows. The chapter begins with the assembling of the people. Everyone who was anybody was there. The ark was moved into place. Solomon turned and blessed the people, and then offered his public prayer.
Solomon was the king. It is important to remember this as he stood with his back to the people at the altar of the Lord. Usually he stood facing the people. He made pronouncements, issued orders, imposed binding decrees. But in this moment, in the presence of the people, he stood before the altar a subject himself. His hands reached up to heaven as he humbled himself before the visible reminder of God’s presence. It was not a kingly moment, at least not in the way most potentates would judge it. By this act, Solomon demonstrated to the people the contingency of his power. He was not the ultimate power or authority; he was the subject of God.
It surprises us that this all occurred in the public eye. We expect Solomon, like the politicians of our day, to publicly project confidence and power, not to admit his weakness and dependence. Our customs demand that spin doctors take the actions of leaders and make them all seem imminently reasonable and wise. But there stood Solomon, bereft of political advisors, revealing his dependence on God.
We have incorrectly identified faith as a private matter in our time. If Solomon were to make such a display today, we would probably be uncomfortable with it. We come to worship carefully reserved and preened so that we do not show too much of ourselves. We are uncomfortable confessing our particular needs and sins in front of others. We fear that if others know our failures, they will use this information to their advantage.
But there stood King Solomon, and he began to pray.
Bob Fox is pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Georgetown, Ky.