The U.S. elections are big news recently – too big to ignore. Many of my vocal Christian friends have taken to social media to remind believers that our new leadership (including Donald Trump) was selected by God, as indeed each political leader has been specifically put in power by God. I don’t buy that story – I could never believe that God picked Hitler and Stalin. But all their talk has me thinking about the relationship of God to politics.
Creation and Politics
In Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, God is said to be the Creator of the world. If God is Creator, then the natural order of the world is, at least to some extent, sanctioned by God. Power and leadership are inescapable aspects of the world that God made. In Genesis 1, God consistently declares that creation is good. Consequently, a “creational” view of politics emphasizes that our governments are divinely intended and inherently good.
From a creational perspective, “the way things are” is stamped with divine approval. Those of us who aren’t in charge must therefore do what we are told. God made it to be this way. Paul sums it up best in Romans 13:1:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God
When God is thought to divinely ordain the powers that be, believers often use political analogies to think of God: God is an Absolute King, ruler, and judge.
It is worth noting that my friends – the ones who think that election results are divinely dictated – have taken this perspective to an extreme. Even if general systems of authority and obedience are divinely intended, this need not mean that each individual politician, from Hitler to Stalin, is hand-picked by God. In any case, Christians can think about God and politics from an entirely different angle.
Eschatology and Politics
“Eschatology” is a tricky and technical word that Christian theologians often use to talk about the future. Eschatology has to do with “the end” – the final redemption of Creation, when all wounds are healed and all pain dissolves. Christians typically believe that the current state of affairs will eventually be toppled and made right by God, transformed into a perfect future. Against the backdrop of a grand future, our present governments look a lot less grand.
Unsurprisingly, an eschatological take on politics often gets pretty Jesus-y. The Gospels (especially Matthew, Mark, and Luke) tell the story of Jesus, a homeless wanderer who criticized the rich and powerful and was executed through the collusion of the rich Temple authorities with a powerful Roman governor. Yet their verdict was reversed by God, who raised Jesus from the dead and thereby “disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it” (Colossians 2:15). An eschatological God is a God who refuses to let those in charge have the last word.
An eschatological perspective is always a bit suspicious of the people at the top. The Jesus story of God puts “the way things are” in a bad light. Sustained by hope for a perfected future in God, eschatologically-informed Christians roll up their sleeves and work with God to interrupt the present with the in-breaking kingdom of God, if only for fleeting moments here and there.
God and Donald Trump
My theory is that believers who find conservative politics most appealing will tend to think of politics in terms of Creation, whereas political liberals will feel a stronger tug towards eschatology. After all, conservatives by definition resist change, whereas liberals embrace it. As someone who tends to lean leftwards (sometimes very leftwards) when it comes to politics, I tend to bet on eschatology.
The news that Trump will become president is very concerning to me. I am disgusted by Trump’s nostalgia for the past (“Make America Great Again“), unfathomable wealth, authoritarian bent, and consistent insensitivity towards women as well as racial and religious minorities. (To be fair, Clinton was no homeless wanderer herself.) In the same way, I find little to worship in a God obsessed with re-enacting the past, a God who brings wealth to some and poverty to many others, who accepts the pain of the “little people” as collateral damage, who exercises unilateral power to trump (pun intended) the decisions of people. In short, I am not attracted to tyrannical politicians or divinities.
But a God who is revealed in a homeless Jew who criticized the rich and powerful, a divinity who raises the weak people who the empire crucifies, a God who spells trouble for “the way things are” – I could probably love that kind of God – in fact, I believe that I do. Perhaps God isn’t pulling Trump up to the top – maybe God is bracing for the pain that Trump has promised to unleash on those at the bottom.