It may not be over on Tuesday night. Fears, hard feelings, and deep divides that have sprouted everywhere will probably continue long past the election.
One God and a Whole Lot of Opinions
Passionate feelings are all part of the democratic process. But with the conclusion of our national election cycle every four years, we’re supposed to get a break and go back to normal life. The trouble is when those strong feelings get embalmed and hang around, indefinitely exerting the same outrage as the turbulent campaign season.
Most of us are not political animals. We’re not built for the kind of sustained intrigue that routinely stalks the corridors of power. And even the system itself can’t survive for long if it degrades into a toxic brew of Machiavellian plots and suspicions.
Worse still, these sentiments threaten to permeate the church. The household of the faith receives Christians based on their good standing with Jesus. It’s supposed to be the ultimate safe house, a hospital where sinners recover from their rebellion against God and then grow in their most holy faith.
Yet in congregations like my own, where younger members predominate, different political persuasions can literally exist from seat to seat while the same Lord is worshipped and the same Bible believed.
Maybe I Don’t Want to Know How You Voted
Even in the pews, politics can be a minefield. You never know when a casual comment will ignite long-standing offense. Christians are after all, human, and products of their surrounding culture. American Christians in particular, are born and bred to have opinions and to trust that those opinions count.
When they’re overruled by others—as in a general election—it carries a more potent sting than any Superbowl or World Series loss. Forget noble insights about democracy being the winner. Or theological lectures on the sovereignty of God. When we become this disgusted, nothing seems to help.
Nor does it stimulate brotherly love to discover the people we sing hymns with every Sunday cast their ballots for pure evil. “I didn’t know you voted for hate!” one says. “Yeah? Well I didn’t know you voted for the antichrist!” the other says. And that is how quickly Christian fellowship can sour.
Once you politically blackball somebody in your mind, it doesn’t go away easily. Although Christians shouldn’t suppress every form of political debate or conversation among themselves, neither should we follow the world into a cesspool of infighting.
Somehow we must maintain our Christ-like bearing in the aftermath of American’s most notorious presidential election. The church of Jesus Christ must resist being politicized or otherwise co-opted by the agendas of man.
First, Settle the issue of “Who” as in Who is your candidate?
Upon whom do you pin your hopes in this election? When we hear folks threaten to leave the country if their candidate isn’t chosen, it’s a clear indication where their faith for the future is anchored.
It never hurts for Christians to revisit our “candidate” and the scene of His coming government. Consider Isaiah’s prophecy in the eleventh chapter of his book:
1 There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
Jesse was the father of David and the subsequent line of kings that ruled Israel. As the quality of these leaders declined and the nation neared dissolution, it looked as though Jesse’s family tree had been chopped down and was hopeless. Then a shoot sprang up out of the stump, and turned into a branch that began bearing fruit. This was none other than Jesus Christ—Son of God and Son of David (c.f. Rom. 1:3-4). Where all the other members of the kingly line had only partially approximated the kingdom of God on this earth, Christ would succeed by fully manifesting it.
2 And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
This kingdom man will gain ascendancy not by political savvy, but by the layered excellence of the Holy Spirit.
3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
and faithfulness the belt of his loins.
The justice and judgment of this kingdom will not be established through the dictates of popular opinion, but according to the righteousness of God.
6 The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.
9 They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
10 In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.
This King will achieve the perfect peace, rest, and glory of His kingdom not by the compromise of righteousness, but by the full implementation of it.
If You Get the Person Wrong, You Get Everything Wrong
The man of Isaiah 11 is our “candidate.” His government is our hope. But as Christians get caught up in nationalistic fervor, they often forget this basic lesson. Recently, a graphic made the rounds on social media, depicting the hands of God coming down out of a cloud. In the palms of those hands, sat a Photoshopped image of one of the current candidates. It wasn’t a joke. The message was supposed to be, This politician is God’s gift to our nation, if not mankind.
The poster got it wrong. God’s gift is the man of Isaiah 11, Jesus Christ, Lord of all. If you get that wrong, you get everything wrong. I recently read about a man who got up early one morning, looking forward to some time alone. Unfortunately his young daughter also got up and being bored, began pestering him. He took a page from the newspaper which featured a complex graphic of the world, tore it into a hundred pieces, and told her to assemble it like a puzzle.
She brought it back in less than five minutes, completed. “How did you do that?” he asked her. “There was a man’s face on the other side of the page,” she said. “When I put the man together, the ‘world’ came together.” That’s truth from the mouth of a child. When you get the person right, you get the whole world right.
The problem with politics is that we always gets around to boasting in human beings. For instance we say, “My candidate is honest.”
Well, not really.
Or, “My candidate is about love and unity.”
Nope. Not so much.
That’s only their packaging.
I’m not trying to promote a hopelessly cynical attitude about our political process. No, this is a call to realism. Believers who ought to know better tend to unconsciously transfer their faith to other fallen human beings. And in many cases, these common voters are far more virtuous than the leaders they’re trying to install.
Out in the Woods with Jesus
Granted, Jesus is not on the ballot, but we would do well to vote with a measure of sobriety. Our happiness, peace, and security can never orbit anyone other than Him.
During this current epoch before His kingdom manifests in full visible power, we live in a wilderness stage. It is like the time when David was true king of Israel, but not yet accepted by most of the people. He lived in the woods with a band of rascals and debtors who loved him and believed he would inherit the nation.
Likewise, Christ is the true king (installed through God’s work), but not accepted by most of the world right now, except by us. We’ve been caught by His glory. We love His forgiveness, His grace, His mercy, and His future. We’ve chosen His life and His mission, even if that means a temporary cultural exile.
But in the meantime, what if, despite our best efforts in the voting booth, the “wrong” candidate makes it into the oval office? Suppose the negative forecasts are right, and that person systematically annihilates religious freedoms, dismantles the rule of law, or starts a war worse than anything we’ve yet seen?
Those things could happen.
The answer for the faithful Christian still lies at heart level.
We Must Settle the Issue of Who We Will Trust
Will you say Jesus is your king, yet put an unqualified trust in American politics?
A long time ago, a dozen men got into a fishing boat. The man of Isaiah 11 got into that boat with them (Matt. 8). They didn’t realize it, but by His doing so, that little boat became the most fortified, safest place in the universe.
During their trip across the lake, this kingdom man took a nap. While He slept a storm struck. The twelve probably tried a few seamanship maneuvers, turning the sails, and bailing water. When none of it worked, fear took over and became like a dark animal in the boat. They forgot everything they had seen Jesus do and heard Him say. They could only see the water crashing over the sides.
By the time they woke Jesus, they were hysterical, crying out that all was lost—“We perish!” Rather than calm the storm, He first calmed them. “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” It was an indication that their personal state was a worse problem than the storm itself.
Those believers hadn’t needed calm weather, or a battleship, or flotation devices, and apparently, they didn’t even need Jesus to wake up and do anything. All they needed was to have him in the boat.
This lesson needs to be re-learned on a regular basis by Christians everywhere and in every time.
A Superpower Falls Apart
Consider what happened on August 24, in the year 410 A.D. The world came to an end—at least according to many Christians living at the time. Alaric the Visigoth marched on the city of Rome and sacked it, pillaging its treasures, selling many citizens into slavery, and raping and killing the rest. For a long time the empire had seen its fortunes wax and wane with corrupt leadership and enemy incursions. But the city of Rome had not seen such devastation for at least eight hundred years.
The event stunned everyone who heard about it. When the report reached St. Jerome, who had been living in Bethlehem, he wrote, “The city which had taken the whole world was itself taken.” Depression and anxiety struck Roman Christians who had long enjoyed unparalleled religious freedom and the pride that came with being citizens of the greatest superpower in the history of the world.
Augustine moved to console these early believers by writing his classic The City of God. In it, he wrote of two cities. One is the city of man, which is earthly, political, and temporary. It is corrupt and always headed toward dissolution. The other is the city of God, which is heavenly, spiritual, and eternal. Augustine reminded Christians that they should set their hearts on that perfect, coming city.
Even with world-class efforts and impassioned prayers, Rome still slowly withered away. It collapsed into fragments which became nations of their own. And as those nations rose and fell and changed hands and changed boundaries and even changed names, that little boat survived and sailed through all of it. Sometimes terrible storms rocked it, but it survived all the way down until today.
The secret of our survival has always been the man in the boat with us, even when He seems to be sleeping.
No guarantees exist for a geo-political entity called the United States. We should love it, hope for the best, and do our temporal duty to vote, but we shouldn’t be under any illusions. If the Roman Empire could fall, so could a fledgling two hundred year old “experiment” in democracy.
I have much better news about the shaky little fishing boat, though. That fellowship created in Christ will continue all the way to the end of the world, until the magnificent man of Isaiah 11 regains and renovates the whole earth.
He approves this message.