As we look toward this month’s presidential inauguration, Decision asked Cornerstone University President Joseph M. Stowell to provide a biblical perspective on the election results.
I was out of the country on Nov. 6, the day of the U.S. presidential election. Being several time zones away, I went to sleep wondering what the results would be when I awoke.
The next morning it was announced that President Obama had been re-elected. The friends we were with were devastated. In their minds so much was at stake regarding the future of our economy and the continuing decline of the moral fabric of our American culture. They weren’t alone. In the ensuing days I heard many reflecting about how disheartened they were. But in the midst of all the “woe is us” talk, I couldn’t shake the memory of what had happened the morning that I heard about the election results.
I was coming down the stairs in the hotel where we were staying and overheard a conversation between two ladies. One of them told her friend that she had just heard that the president had been re-elected. Her friend’s response was interesting. She said, “Are you sure?”
“Yes, I am sure!” was the response. Her friend paused, and with a deep sigh of sincerity she said, “Oh, praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!” It was clear that it wasn’t the repetition of a slang expression but the reflection of a deep sense of gratitude from one who I supposed was a sister in Christ.
My initial thought was, How could followers of Jesus have such radically different responses to the election? My next thought was, I wonder if any of us have paused to ask ourselves what a biblical response to the election would look like. So before we throw ourselves into the dumpster of despair or start having praise rallies, let’s see if we can bring God’s perspective into clear view.
First, we should remind ourselves that God was neither surprised nor disappointed by the election news. In fact, given that Scripture assures us that God sets up and takes down rulers, the president’s re-election is spot on with God’s overarching plan for the nations (Daniel 2:21, Romans 13:1). There was no panic in Heaven Nov. 7 to try and figure out what to do now that American voters had “messed everything up.” Thankfully, oops is a word that is never heard in God’s presence. And for those who are left scratching their heads about why God would ever let something like this happen, it’s time to trust! No one doubts that God is wiser than we are and that He knows where He is headed with redemptive history.
But what about the economy? Many Christians are worried that the fiscal policies of this administration will tank the economy and reduce our capacity to prosper. As one person said to me, “I feel sorry that my children and grandchildren will not have the opportunity of enjoying the affluence that we have been blessed with.”
I’m not sure that God is concerned about that. In fact, God’s perspective on personal prosperity may surprise you. To an affluent church in Laodicea, Christ wrote that from His point of view they were, “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17). Their prosperity had made them self-sufficient, causing them to say, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing” (Revelation 3:17). This meant that they didn’t even feel they needed Jesus, and in fact they had left Him on the outside of their heart’s door, where He was knocking and desiring to come in (Revelation 3:20).
Those early Christians were never heard singing the hymn, “I need thee, oh I need thee! Every hour I need thee, bless me now my Savior, I come to thee!” No wonder Jesus was so deeply offended that He said they reminded Him of the putrid taste of their water and He felt like spitting them out of His mouth. Could it be that the reduction of our ability to prosper might just drive us to the pursuit of the true riches that are only found in Christ? (Revelation 3:18). A blessing in disguise!
Even more troubling to some has been the fear that we as Christians are now living in a culture that is becoming increasingly hostile to us as followers of Christ and that the election may accelerate our loss of the “comfortable America” that we have known.
So, let me ask: What gives us the right to feel that we are entitled to live in a culture that supports and upholds our values? More important, why do we think that we should be exempt from suffering the discomfort of resistance and marginalization? Tell that to followers of Christ in China, Cuba, Sudan, Vietnam and countless other nations where believers this very day are suffering for Christ, willingly enduring marginalization, imprisonment and even death. The fact is that history proves that the church under pressure, like coal turning to diamonds, is most often at its best.
Early Christians brought the power of God’s love into a culture that was much like what our culture is becoming. Sexual immorality was rampant, idolatrous spirituality was the norm, the value of the lives of the unborn and newly born were deeply discounted and the only thing you couldn’t say was that your God was the only true God. But in spite of the fact that they were stuck in such an unfriendly environment, they courageously and confidently followed Christ, who had navigated His own life through a hostile political and religious environment as an example, “so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). They remembered that Christ had warned them that they would be under pressure from their culture (Matthew 5:10-12) and that He had said, “You are the light of the world … let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16). And they trusted that Peter was right when he said to a suffering church, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12).
The record of these early Christians is that they faithfully brought the power of the good works of love toward their enemies (Matthew 5:43-45); compassionate acts of mercy to the poor and needy (Luke 12:32-34); an unflinching loyalty to Christ, even in the face of death and depravation (Philippians 1:21); and a determination to support each other and to winsomely win others to Christ (Acts 2:42-47).
I fear that unlike the early followers of Jesus, some Christians who are now disheartened and discouraged may be tempted to disengage and withdraw. A friend said to me after the election that they felt like a stranger in America. Good point! I thought that was what we were supposed to feel like (Hebrews 11:13-16): Aliens and strangers who are headed to a better land, who, in the meantime, live out our calling to engage our dark and needy world with the light of the transforming power of the Gospel through word and deed.
Let’s get on with it!
©2012 Joseph M. Stowell
Scripture quotations are taken by permission from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.
Joseph M. Stowell is president of Cornerstone University, in Grand Rapids, Mich. An author and speaker who has led many seminars at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove, he also serves on the board of directors of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.