By: Chris Howell
I think it is safe to say that this election cycle was at once “exciting” and downright “demoralizing” to many on all points of the political spectrum. Even if your candidate “won,” a lot was lost during the process for the American electorate, namely hope and confidence in the electoral process. As Christians with a biblically informed worldview, we already understand why this is the case. Generally, all human institutions are flawed because they consist of, well, humans. We always mess it up no matter how hard we try because we can’t seem to escape the inevitable tendency to make everything about ourselves, which always ends poorly. Specifically, we understand why the election was contentious because pretty much all elections are – going back to the Old Testament when, in fact, there weren’t “elections” at all, just people who either were appointed to or seized power. Remember Israel’s first go around with getting themselves a king (1 Samuel 8ff)? That ended poorly. Even when David took the throne he succumbed to selfishness and greed in light of such a powerful position.
The rest of the Old Testament kings, as well as biblical history and, for that matter, modern history, reveals that electing or submitting to people in power is inherently problematic. There is no question that different leaders have exhibited vastly different competencies and had very different successes and failures depending on their own gifting and circumstances. But the one thing they all have in common is the fact that their “platform” ultimately doesn’t matter; regardless of their intentions, they all fall short. Their agenda and policies, however brilliant, don’t ultimately solve the problem of sin and human suffering. Remember, the Old Testament kings were privileged with a “perfect” platform, that is God’s law. There was nothing wrong with the law, just with their inherent inability to live up to it. This reality simply advanced God’s intention all along to send a Savior who could actually fulfill the law and reign with fairness and wisdom.
So today we live and experience leadership on the other side of the cross. Jesus has come, lived a perfect life in obedience to the law, and died an unjust death on our behalf so that we might experience the true kingship of Christ. But we experience it only in part right now as we await the final season of his return, when all things will be set right. So, in the meantime, how do we respond to those whom God either establishes or allows to be established in leadership over us (Daniel 2.20–23)?
First of all, I think we acknowledge human government for what it is: a temporary provision to establish order and provide security, which is a clear demonstration of God’s grace to humanity. All benefit from this, regardless of your religious beliefs. There is no culture that prefers violence and chaos over peace (albeit imperfect) and a legal system (albeit unfair). The very fact that we have anyone in charge that seeks to uphold the law or seek the common good despite the inherent evil present in humans and their societies is a sign of God’s participation in creation. We should thank Him for that, even if we don’t like the particular person in charge for the short blip this will amount to on the radar of human history.
Second, we should avoid the extremes of triumphalism and despair as noted by our lead pastor. Regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, the election of a particular candidate into office neither represents heaven on earth nor hell in the streets. Choices do matter, including the choices that presidents and governors make, as well as the choices of the American people who give them power. Different leaders will be measured and evaluated based upon their strength of character and the policies they implement. Governing a country or state is extremely important and should not be taken lightly. But if a discussion of the relative merits of any government official leads you to either shrink back in fear and dread, or boldly celebrate and stomp on those who are scared, your faith is not in the God of the universe who establishes and removes all rulers in the first place. Let’s keep this in mind, and call out idolatry on both sides when it creeps in.
Further, if you interpret the statement that “well, Jesus is on the throne no matter who is president” as simply a platitude, or a glib Christianese slogan, I would invite you to reconsider this statement. While it may not be presented in a sensitive manner, and it may be retweeted by Christians who don’t always demonstrate a balanced view of the political process, this is actually a biblical truth and it points to something extremely important. We can never simply say “Jesus is on the throne” as a platitude without it meaning to comfort someone, and we can never dismiss this truth as a platitude in light of our own suffering. Jesus is King, and he will return with strength, power, and godly authority. The fact that he is Lord does not diminish the real problems and suffering that people around us are experiencing. It doesn’t simply end the conversation about politics. The fact that Jesus is coming back does not mean that the injustices around us right now – the fears, the pain, and the anxiety of being human – can all be made to disappear by simply stating a Christian virtue.
But if this virtue isn’t true, then all truly is lost. Seeing Christ for who he is, a compassionate, loving, just, merciful, powerful, and perfect King, allows us to obey and follow him no matter who is in charge of human governments. The problems, fears, and struggles of human cultures don’t disappear in light of his expected return, they simply clamor for it to happen sooner. Because of who Jesus is, we now have additional motivation to go out into the world and conduct our own campaigns for the Gospel, forecasting this very return we so anxiously await. We can now comfort people who are scared, stand up for what is true, and labor for what is good. We can give people a taste of what it will truly be like when Christ returns and help them make the most important decision that they will ever face: not who his president, but who is Lord.
In the meantime, I encourage you to act in a manner befitting the calling with which you were called (Eph 4.1), with humility, gentleness, patience, and tolerance for one another in love. Further, pray for your leaders (1 Tim 2). They need it. Submit to them (Rom 13) out of love for, and trust in, God. Ask the Lord to show you how to make a difference for him and your immediate environment, and point others to Christ in the process.