The government 'upon his shoulder'
A Christian Science perspective: A line from Handel's "Messiah" sheds some light on the US presidential election.
If you live in the United States, as I do, you probably cannot wait for Election Day, not just to know the result, but to see this political advertising cycle come to an end. Political ads have become ubiquitous, almost impossible to avoid, and endlessly repetitive. Even on quiet residential streets, candidates’ signs decorate lawn after lawn.
Recently, feeling a bit worn out by the barrage, I sat down to pray about the election. And I noticed that something else – part of a song – had been repeating itself over and over in my thinking.
The words were “and the government shall be upon his shoulder.” I recognized them as part of a Bible verse that makes up a chorus in Handel’s sacred oratorio, “Messiah,” which I’ve been rehearsing to sing as a member of a local chorale. The whole verse describes the identity of the promised Messiah or Christ: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).
Many Christians view the life of Jesus as the fulfillment of this prophecy. Yet I found it interesting to learn that Handel did not title his work “The Messiah,” but rather, “Messiah.” This may seem like a small distinction, but it points to a broader scope for the whole work.
Perhaps Handel glimpsed something of the Christ as a universal and eternal idea, which neither began nor ended with the temporal life of Jesus. Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, recognized this fact. She wrote: “The advent of Jesus of Nazareth marked the first century of the Christian era, but the Christ is without beginning of years or end of days” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 333).
This divine idea, or Christ, is as active in human consciousness today as it was when Isaiah’s prophecy was written. Mrs. Eddy speaks of it as “Immanuel, or ‘God with us,’ – a divine influence ever present in human consciousness and repeating itself, coming now as was promised aforetime,
To preach deliverance to the captives [of sense],
And recovering of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty them that are bruised.“
(Science and Health, p. xi)
To me, “the government shall be upon his shoulder,” repeating itself in my thinking, was more than a song snippet. It was Immanuel prompting me to seek a more spiritual view of government, which transcends the current political atmosphere.
I recognized that, in this context, “the government” is God in action – the divine order encompassing all. I thought about the qualities of divine government – righteousness, goodness, mercy, justice, honesty, compassion, equality, infallibility, harmony, peace, etc.
God’s government, being unlimited, universal, and eternal, is expressed everywhere and at all times. No individual, group, or political party controls or monopolizes it. It is neither red nor blue, conservative nor liberal. It isn’t even middle of the road. It cannot be dragged down by human posturing, hatred, conflict, or fear.
The Hebrew word shakem translated “shoulder” in Isaiah, Chap. 9, means the neck area between the shoulders where burdens are placed. So true, divine government is borne by and rests upon the foundation or shoulder of the Christ, rather than upon the personalities of human beings.
If all true government is founded upon and supported by the Christ, God’s divine idea, it is permanent and complete. Encompassing all, its qualities must be expressed in human governments as well. And its success is not dependent upon the election of any one individual or party.
Prayerfully recognizing these spiritual facts will elevate political discourse and support the proper conduct of national and local governments both before and after the election.
Praying with these ideas relieved my sense of anxiety about the election. They also helped me realize the importance of praying for all our elected officials, regardless of party, that the presence of the Christ might lift from them any feeling of being personally burdened by their offices.
For me, this statement by Mary Baker Eddy sums it up perfectly: “It is safe to leave with God the government of man” (“Retrospection and Introspection,” p. 90).