Updated: Oct 15, 2021
Do we really believe that God is sovereign? Reflections on our current environment on the eve of the 2020 US election and why I am holding on to hope.
I am feeling encouraged. This is in significant contrast to how I felt even a few months ago and certainly from how I have felt for the longer part of the last 4+ years. At the risk of rubbing some the wrong way, I felt compelled to share the journey I have been on the last few months in hopes that it may encourage other fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who may be feeling a sense of grief, anxiety, or anger right now, particularly towards the larger church.
A few caveats before I begin. My husband and I have always considered ourselves independents. We are aware that in some of our circles, we are probably perceived to be more progressive and in others, perhaps as conservative-leaning moderates. For the record, we don't necessarily identify with either political party and try our best to approach each election through the lens of our values, faith, and informed convictions. Civic engagement is a priority for us, and we have always appreciated the opportunity to healthily dialogue with friends from a variety of different viewpoints. In fact, we've regularly hosted sessions formally and informally over the years for tough yet respectful conversations to help inform and broaden our collective thinking.
Admittedly, this has gotten much harder just in the last four years, in line with the increasing polarization in our country. For many reasons I won't detail here, it has felt more personal. I had a hard time in 2016, wrestling with a deeply painful sense of "betrayal" by the Christian community, one that only grew as the division in our country began to intensify. The stakes felt like they were getting higher. Conversations got more difficult. Certain positions felt more like personal attacks. And as dialogue seemed to cease, heels dug in, and people within our faith communities began to tear each other down, my heart broke.
There was a period of time we felt tempted to pull back from community and just express our faith privately. This was only exacerbated by COVID, with such division even in the ways that churches should respond to public health orders, mask usage, or how services should be run. It seemed that feelings were so charged on all sides that for the first time, we began turning down some opportunities to engage in political discussions that we felt would not be productive or consume too much emotional energy.
The heaviness was unbearable and unsustainable. So in the last few months, we have tried to find ways to take back control. We stepped away from spending as much time on social media. We have pressed in to re-engage with other believers who shared our values of being open, respectful, and honoring to one another, despite differences in opinion. We have tried to find practical ways to serve. And we have devoted our time to focus back in on Scripture and thought-provoking literature.
We were pleasantly surprised to start feeling like some key themes were being pressed on our hearts from every direction, and we feel more convicted and at peace than ever that God really is in control. What follows is an amalgam of somewhat raw, unfiltered, and perhaps not so well-written thoughts, but for the sake of expediency and wanting to share in a timely manner, I've listed them here in hopes they might encourage some of you.
A few key Scriptures that have really impacted me:
In Daniel 4:17, it says: "For this has been decreed by the messengers; it is commanded by the holy ones, so that everyone may know that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world. He gives them to anyone he chooses— even to the lowliest of people.” And in Jeremiah 27:5, God also gives the message "...With my great power and outstretched arm I made the earth and its people and the animals that are on it, and I give it to anyone I please."
This was encouraging because it is a reminder that:
God is the granter of authority. He gives and He can take away. These statements are shocking because, along with others, they are in reference to some terrible kings. It might not make sense to us or in our short-natured perspectives. But nothing comes as a surprise to God, and in fact, all passes through His will.
Nations and rulers are temporary. There is a finite timeframe to the rule of every authority. In reading those same passages, the timelapse between some prophecies and their fulfillment ranged from right away to periods of between forty to even hundreds of years. It can seem long. And I don't doubt there was significant suffering and pain, especially under unjust governments (I can't imagine what it must have been like to live as a mother under Herod's rule during the time of Christ's birth). But even still, God's purposes were not thwarted and everything was still used to further his will.
Another Scripture I have been encouraged by:
John 18:36: "Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” In a similar vein, in Luke 17:21, it also says "You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you", and Romans 14:17 says "For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost."
These were a reminder to me that:
While God can use people in positions of power, His ultimate means of changing the world is not through politics. Contrary to the expectation of many, Jesus did not end up leading a political revolution. In fact, He rejects and commands Satan to leave when offered political power (Matthew 4:8-10) and similarly flees the scene after feeding the 5000 when they try to elevate him into a position of political power (John 6:15).
Rather, his revolution was one of humility, love, and mercy that would bring forth Heaven on earth via the transformative power of a restored relationship with God. The notion of the Kingdom of Heaven is best described in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), which is all about what is looks like to live as a follower of Christ.
At the same time, the language used is very much in line with the notion of rule and authority. And there is so much imagery throughout the Gospels and the Bible about God as King, and even arriving as a King. His Kingdom is not reserved only to the spiritual. Though it has yet to be fully established on the earth, we can participate in His Kingdom now and live under his higher authority now (Ephesians 1:18-23).
And finally, I have been encouraged in reading The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence (a 17th century monk who served in the kitchen, yet impacted countless people due to the profound peace they observed in his life) and The Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren. Both of these books - though written hundreds of years apart - impressed on me the importance of practicing God's presence in what I do in the dailiness of my life. They re-centered my heart and mind on the present, which is the only truly real thing at any moment in time and is what I can be immediately affecting.
A few quotes that have particularly impacted me:
“We can get caught up in big ideas of justice and truth and neglect the small opportunities around me to extend kindness, forgiveness, and grace.”
“Ordinary love, anonymous and unnoticed as it is, is the substance of peace on earth, the currency of God's grace in our daily life.”
“Anne Lamott writes that we learn the practice of reconciliation by starting with those nearest us. 'Earth is Forgiveness School. You might as well start at the dinner table. That way, you can do this work in comfortable pants.' ”
“In C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters (a satirical novel written from the perspective of a demon to his nephew on how to secure the damnation of his 'patient'), senior demon Screwtape coaches a junior devil on how to infect a man’s relationship with others: “Keep his mind off the most elementary of duties by directing it to the most advanced and spiritual ones. Aggravate that most useful of human characteristics, the horror and neglect of the obvious.” He continues, “I have had patients of my own so well in hand that they could be turned at a moment’s notice from impassioned prayer for a wife’s or son’s ‘soul’ to beating or insulting the real wife or son without a qualm.”
“Annie Dillard famously writes, 'How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.' I came across Dillard’s words a couple years before I went to seminary, and throughout those years of heady theological study I kept them in my back pocket. They remind me that today is the proving ground of what I believe and of whom I worship.”
“If I am to spend my whole life being transformed by the good news of Jesus, I must learn how grand, sweeping truths—doctrine, theology, ecclesiology, Christology—rub against the texture of an average day. How I spend this ordinary day in Christ is how I will spend my Christian life.”
“There is no task too small or too routine to reflect God’s glory and worth.”
And finally this one: “A sign hangs on the wall in a New Monastic Christian community house: “Everyone wants a revolution. No one wants to do the dishes.” I was, and remain, a Christian who longs for revolution, for things to be made new and whole in beautiful and big ways. But what I am slowly seeing is that you can’t get to the revolution without learning to do the dishes. The kind of spiritual life and disciplines needed to sustain the Christian life are quiet, repetitive, and ordinary. I often want to skip the boring, daily stuff to get to the thrill of an edgy faith. But it’s in the dailiness of the Christian faith—the making the bed, the doing the dishes, the praying for our enemies, the reading the Bible, the quiet, the small—that God’s transformation takes root and grows.”
All this has instilled a peace in my heart that I haven't had for a while. No matter the outcome of the election tomorrow, it will not take away my ability to practice God's presence in the dailiness of my life. While it may or may not make it harder, who is in office does not have to prevent me from moving forward in action to do my part in serving my community or advancing justice. And finally, it will not and cannot thwart God's ultimate will.
So in closing, I humbly challenge and pose some considerations and exhortations in love to my brothers and sisters who are experiencing great anxiety and despair today:
Consider where we are putting our faith. Is our faith in politicians? The government? The Supreme Court? In compromise? Or are we confident in the sovereignty of our God - that we can trust that the means in which we conduct ourselves and standards we hold ourselves to are of great significance (think Joseph, King David, Daniel, etc.), and that His ways are greater than we might be able to comprehend?
Are we living with eternity and the end in mind? How much do we truly believe that justice belongs to God? Does that perspective change our despair? Does it change how we act and how we treat those around us? It doesn't mean that we do not act; we are still accountable for our actions. But does it change our hearts to ones filled with peace and hope?
If we really want to change the world, what does that look like in my current day-to-day? What does it look like in the ways I interact with those around me, considering that everyone is loved by God and made in His image?
No matter what happens tomorrow, God is still sovereign. We are still His children. The church is still His bride. As we head into tomorrow, my prayer for the church is that He may dwell in our hearts through faith, we may be rooted and grounded in love, and we may be filled with the fullness of His joy and peace. Because at the end of the day, Jesus is still the one who changes the world.