By John Stonestreet at http://www.breakpoint.org, August 9, 2016.
So, have you heard this one? Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are stranded at sea on a life boat. Who survives? America does!
What a bizarre election year this has been.
Now, despite the dire warnings from both candidates about the consequences of electing their opponent, the most important thing about this election is not who becomes president. The most important thing about this election is what it reveals about us as a society.
Nearly 40 years ago, in a famous speech at Harvard University, the great Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said: “There are meaningful warnings which history gives a threatened or perishing society. Such are, for instance, the decadence of art, or a lack of great statesmen.” Talk about prophetic!
Folks, I might as well just say it: I am convinced that this election is an indication that God is judging America.
Now claiming to know God’s mind both for what and with what He is bringing judgment is theologically indefensible and only makes us look silly. (You may recall a few notable Christians who stuck their foot in their mouths after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina). And yet, as Stephen Keillor argued in his book God’s Judgments, it is also theologically indefensible to not acknowledge God’s working in history, including through acts of judgment.
And in this case, I am ready to say, God is judging our country. Why? As my colleague Roberto Rivera often says, “The five scariest words in the Bible are, ‘…and God gave them over’.”
The most common way God judges is with the natural consequences of our choices and behavior. This is especially true in politics, which is mostly downstream from – and a reflection of – the broader culture. In other words, especially in our country, we tend to get the leaders we deserve. Which is why this November we should cast our vote with fear, trembling, weeping, praying for mercy, and maybe even while wearing sackcloth and ashes.
Whenever I think of stepping into the voting booth on November 8, I somewhat melodramatically think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Christmas letter: “One may ask,” he wrote, “whether there have ever before in human history been people… to whom every available alternative seemed equally intolerable, repugnant, and futile…”
Look, I realize that many of my brothers and sisters in Christ have found a level of clarity about the upcoming presidential vote that I have not– perhaps out of resignation or from some political calculations. Perhaps I will too, but until then, I hope there are some things on which we Christians can agree.
First, our deepest problems aren’t political ones, and the state is not able to address them. Looking to the state for hope is always misguided, but every four years we seem to fall for it.
Second, although the presidential race is the only one being talked about, the most important political decisions we will make this year, I’m convinced, will be the local ones. The only thing to mitigate the chaos created by an ever-encroaching federal government convinced of its own indispensability is a stronger local, civil society.
Third, as Eric said recently on BreakPoint, the Church must be the Church. Look, the Church is not reliant one bit on the state to do the life-giving, Gospel-proclaiming, brokenness-restoring work God has called it to do. The Church is the most effective institution of social change, period.
And finally, but most important, we pray for God’s mercy. He judges the wicked by leaving them to their own devices. The sooner we abandon those devices and turn back to God, the better. And, I am not speaking here only about “them,” those outside the Church. No way. As Peter wrote in his first epistle, “it’s time for judgment to begin in the house of God.”
May God have mercy, but if He brings judgment, so be it.
“Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, (and) that his justice cannot sleep forever.”
–Thomas Jefferson, 1781
“The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
–Abraham Lincoln, 1865, Second Inaugural Address, quoting Psalm 19:9
Psalm 81:10-12 — “I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt… But my people would not listen to me… So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices.”
Job 8:3-4 — Does God pervert justice? Does the Almighty pervert what is right? When your children sinned against him, he gave them over to the penalty of their sin.
Romans 1:28-32 — Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
Look mercifully, O Lord, we beseech Thee, on the affliction of Thy people; and let not our sins destroy us, but let Thine almighty mercy save us; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord. Amen.
—Lutheran Altar Service Book, 1958, Augsburg Publishing House