Now that our national elections are over we can begin to assess some things about the state of the nation a bit more clearly. I would like to reflect on the “spiritual” state of America during the next few weeks.
“The Sky Is Falling”
Every election season offers us various versions of the idea that if the right people are not chosen “the sky is falling.” In this election we were told that the next generation of Americans is doomed if XYZ is not elected. Many political conservatives, including Governor Romney, argued this was the most important election in our lifetime! Why? Because our grandchildren would inherit a land less free, less prosperous and less safe. The truth is always more complicated than this type of election rhetoric. We cannot know if this is really true regardless of which party, or person, won last Tuesday. The future ultimately belongs not to our leaders, but to the Lord our God. This is the Christian doctrine of divine providence. When we forget this we do so to our peril as Christians.
This great country has survived wars, even a massive civil war that nearly destroyed us once and for all. She has survived many waves of immigration, endless debates over class and business development, and a deep intransigent centuries-old racism. The country has survived hard times, economically and spiritually, and recovered. And the country has faced morally bankrupt times when church attendance ranged as low as 10% or less of the total population. (Shortly after her founding in 1800.) Nothing in the present, or the immediate future, looks anything like “the worst of times.” Right now the sky is not falling! Judgment belongs to the Lord and he does with the nations what he pleases. No one, and I repeat no one, knows the future of this nation in any true sense of the word. Don’t let politicians frighten you, cripple your faith or falsely mislead you. The Lord is still the sovereign over the earth and rules in mercy and grace through the gift of his love in Jesus Christ. Christ has the last word. Our solid rock, Jesus Christ, will not be moved by the results of an election.
“The Best of Times”
Democrats generally believe that these are the best of times. Why? They just won a major election and at numbers higher than some expected. They control much of the power, or at least the center stage of national power. But power is fleeting and often irrelevant to the outcomes of real day-to-day life. In my own lifetime political power has shifted again and again, rolling in and out like the waves of the sea. For a long time Republicans controlled the White House while the House of Representatives, and often the Senate, were safely in the hands of the Democrats. Then the Republicans controlled the Senate for a season but not the House, until 1994. We survived all these political shifts. For liberals the Reagan years (1981-1989) were the worst years imaginable. To Republicans these were the “glory” years. Now we have our second two-term Democrat president since Reagan (Clinton and Obama). He is a leader who retains a very high “likability” with massive numbers of people. But we have a Republican House and a Democratic Senate. This will present unique challenges to both parties. I hope they will try to find resolutions through reasonable political compromise. My greatest personal desire for President Obama is that he will engage his opposition in a more effective way, a way which requires him to be less rigid ideologically. And I pray that the House leadership will be afforded respect and allowed to converse as peers in the sharing of political power. I am not holding my breath. The so-called partisan grid-lock of the past four years just might be broken if President Obama proves to be the kind of leader that I believe he is capable of being. Maybe a “lame duck” leader can work better with the ideas contained in the non-partisan Simpson-Bowles Commission’s report on how to fix the economy. I’m hopeful this proposal will be considered seriously in a second term. This might become the best outcome of last week’s election. I am also persuaded that we face a huge financial cliff. Both parties know it. Blaming each other will not stop the train wreck.
While you are at it pray for Christians in Congress. They are on both sides of the aisle. Some of these men and women come together in private Bible study and prayer. Pray for “missional-ecumenism” in places within our government where Christians work. By this I mean pray for Christians working for the common good across their diverse views of how to solve our great problems. The good will of such private gatherings could impact the larger whole in ways that we will never see as ordinary citizens. The fact that this does go on among members of Congress is not widely known. We should pray for those who share their lives with one another in this way, especially those new members of Congress who will come to Washington with real hope for making a difference in office.
One thing is for sure. The president cannot fix or heal the nation. I described him in a blog about David Maraniss’s fine biography of the president as “the first global, postmodern, Christian president.” My language upset some conservatives. I meant this description as neither a criticism nor as great praise, simply as an observation. Of one thing I am quite sure–he is not a messiah and the kingdom of God will not arrive on Air Force One over the next four years. (The same would have been true had President Obama lost this election!)