There has been a wearisome and often worrisome build up to this day. As Americans go to the polls and we await the results, I wanted to offer a few thoughts on some different popular opinions in order to give us some perspective going forward.
Popular Opinion #1 - “If (fill in the blank) is elected, it’s the end of America” or “America will never survive a (fill in the blank) presidency.”
America has survived economic turmoil, political divisiveness, global military conflicts, civil war within it’s own borders, plenty of social unrest, massive moral degradation and plenty of other significant forms of turmoil. That is not to say that our nations preservation is guaranteed or without legitimate threat. It’s just to say that the United States, as a country, is probably more resilient than a lot of dooms-dayers would have us believe.
I remember tons of people saying that America was doomed if Obama was elected… the first time. That was repeated the second time around as well. We're still here 8 years later, and foreshadowing the same apocolytpic end to this election. Every four years, we’re told, maybe even rightly, that “this is the most important election of our lifetime.” Whether Clinton or Trump wins this election, campaigning will begin in earnest in about 2 years or so for an election to take place in 4 years that will inevitably be the most important election of our lifetime and one from which our nation will never be able to recover.
Look, elections have consequences. There is no doubt about that. But America will likely not be brought down single handedly by whoever wins the presidency. However tense and unstable things feel in this cultural climate, let’s pay attention to the words of the prophet, from Isaiah 33:5-6: “The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high; he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness, and he will be the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure."
He is the stability of our times, beloved. He is our treasure. Let us not look anywhere else for what we already have in him.
Popular Opinion #2 - “America can become that shining city on a hill” or “America can, once again, be that shining city on a hill.”
There is the progressive narrative of America getting closer to real equality, real freedom, and our achieving the promise and potential of our nation. Then there’s the populist narrative of “making America great again”, reminiscing about “the way things were” and reclaiming the “good old days.” The idea that America is, once was or could ever be a “shining city on a hill,” should be easy-to-spot heresy for Christians. It's mythology. I’ve covered this in recent sermons, but it’s worth restating. The United States cannot be what the Church of Jesus Christ has been created, called and commissioned to be.
The best version of America, whether you see that as rooted in our history and Constitutional fidelity, or as unleashed in our trajectory of Cultural flexibility and fluidity, will neither embody, nor equal the Kingdom fulfillment that our hearts anticipate. Whatever promise America represents, it’s not the Promised Land. And whatever freedom she stands for is still some form of slavery.
While I stated above that America is more resilient than some want to believe, the other side of that coin is that America is less permanent than others want to believe. This is an earthly kingdom and thus, has a shelf life. 2 Samuel 7:16 says that the throne of David “shall be established forever.” Psalm 145:13 tells us that God’s Kingdom “is an everlasting Kingdom.”
There is only one lasting Kingdom. This is good news brothers and sisters. We need not be gloom and doom with every wave of political transition, cultural evolution, social shift, or moral drift. We belong to a Kingdom that marches on and will endure forever. The consummation of Christ’s Kingdom necessitates the collapse of earthly kingdoms. As Kingdom citizens already, we need not try to usher in the coming Kingdom but neither do we need to oppose it. There is a subtle resistance to the gospel, an overlooked idolatry in some of our hopes for a restored American utopia. The deeply felt need to satisfy our desires in this world with things that are decidedly of this world, robs us of our real hope, which is other worldly.
America has never been nor will it ever be a shining city on a hill. That’s not a criticism. She was never supposed to be. Our political system is not the hope of the world. The hope of the world is the Spirit-empowered witness of the Church. The world does not need a more liberal Church, a more conservative Church, or a more traditional Church; the world needs a more biblical Church, a more humble Church and a more evangelical Church. American patriotism can settle for being about God and Country and Freedom. But Christian patriotism must go beyond that to Christ and His Cross and Redemption.
The brightest future for America is made possible when the Church inhabiting America recovers her missionary identity and an incarnational strategy. The United States needs a unified Church that embodies the values, customs and culture of the Kingdom wherever we live as exiles; and a kind and gentle invitation for others to enter into the life of the Kingdom now through a bloody cross and empty tomb.
Popular Opinion #3 - “If (name your candidate here) wins, it’s clearly the judgment of God on America.”
Okay, I actually believe we’re already under the judgment of God as a nation, not awaiting His judgement until after this election. God’s judgment is one of the best explanations for why we have the candidates we do. We live in a time, like the book of Judges in the OT, when “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” It shouldn’t be so surprising that we are left with two major party nominees who do what is right in their own eyes. Is it any wonder that in convictionless times we are left with convictionless leaders?
Throughout the narrative of Scripture, the judgment of God comes upon people and nations who have turned away from God, who worshipped idols, who were defined by greed, injustice, corruption, violence, etc. So whether we are under the judgement of God already, or anticipating the judgment of God on the horizon, I want to suggest that there is only one biblical way to respond.
We can’t manage God’s judgment. We can’t negotiate, manipulate or vote our way out of it. We can’t legislate away God’s judgement. We cannot avoid God’s judgment or deny culpability, pointing the finger at those evil people over there, whoever “those” people are and wherever “there” happens to be.
Peter tells us that judgement “begins with the the household of faith.” Who are we to point the finger when we’ve not taken a long look in the mirror? Do we really believe that the wickedness and waywardness of a culture that wants nothing to do with Jesus is more offensive to God than the wickedness and waywardness of a bride who professes fidelity but practices adultery? Are we not still crucifying our Lord all over again, getting fresh blood on our hands, when by our very lives we hold him in contempt (Heb. 6:6)?
The Church cannot responsibly lament the condition of our culture and the direction of our nation while continuing to neglect personal and corporate repentance. We are not passive victims of an immoral culture thumbing their noses at Almighty God. We are active participants in a treasonous rebellion against the King of Glory.
There is only one way God relents from judgment; only one way His anger is abated. Revival and spiritual renewal is always rooted in and springs from repentance. God builds His Kingdom through the brokenness of His people over their sin.
If ever Israel wandered, and found themselves under His judgement, God told Solomon, “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14) Brothers and Sisters, we the redeemed are the “my people” he is referring to.
God’s heart will be touched by the persistent prayers of forgiven sinners like us; through the relentless pursuit of Christ by blood bought sons and daughters such as us; through the renunciation of fleshly allegiances from liberated slaves like you and me; through personal and collective repentance by those whose only hope is in the grace and mercy of God.
God’s hand will be moved through and eyes-wide-open, souls-laid-bare, honest ownership of hearts and lives that have given safe harbor to the fork-tongued lies of the serpent. We must search our hearts and ask for him to shine his light where the deception laden, darkness spewing whispers have corrupted our minds, wills and emotions. We must break from any and every idea which distracts from, diminishes or denies the supremacy of Christ, and which excuses, entices and enslaves us to sin.
Church, we cannot just hope for the unconverted to repent. We, the converted must lead the way in repentance. We must hate what God hates in our own lives, before we can expect others to hate what God hates in their lives. For healing and revival and renewal to sweep over our country, it must first sweep over our congregations.
The only faithful response to God’s judgement - whether it’s the threat of judgement, the fear of judgement, the possibility of judgement, or the guarantee of judgement - the only faithful response is repentance.
So whatever comes of the election tonight, our nation needs God’s people to wake up tomorrow and every day after, absolutely persuaded that Jesus is the stability of our time, that we have a missionary identity that has placed us strategically in our time, and that if we’ll walk in repentance we may yet pave the way for spiritual renewal in our time.