Monday, November 5, 2012

Whose Side Is God On?

Since childhood, about this time every four years, I’ve sat (more often stood) in church services and heard prayers offered that God would direct the election of our next President. In the churches I attended that invariably translated into, “Dear God, let the Republican win.” The following Sunday there was either great rejoicing – if the Republican won – that the nation had been spared calamity, or sober submission to the inscrutable will of God, if the Democrat won.

Being a “thinker” – not a particularly powerfully good “thinker”, but a “thinker” nonetheless – I’ve often wondered which side God is on. Abraham Lincoln is credited with remarking that it is better if we seek to be on God’s side rather than recruit him to our side. Our pastor this Sunday reminded us that we should be careful not to pray, “Not thy will, but mine, be done.” Both wise admonitions.

But it is a serious question. I believe I can come close to correctly characterizing C. S. Lewis’ position on the matter. He believed, if I recall correctly, that God entrusted to mankind a certain sphere of activity, in which man is allowed to operate, pretty much as he pleases. He may murder his neighbor, steal from his employer, defraud his customers, invade another country’s territory, invent a bomb to obliterate millions of his fellow humans. He may also contribute to the aid of disaster victims, care for the sick and dying, advocate – to the point of martyrdom – for the oppressed, invent life-saving, life-enhancing medical procedures, serve his nation selflessly and tirelessly, serve his God with humility and faithfulness. Mankind gets to choose.

Does that mean that God has no “will” in the matter? No, he cares deeply. I believe, with all my heart, that “God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes in him need not perish but have everlasting life.” Interestingly, the Gospel of John, from which that quotation comes, uses the Greek word cosmos where the English is translated “world”. There was another Greek word that could have been used, geos (earth). But cosmos denotes human society. God so loved (cared about) how humans organize their society that he sent the Divine Son of God to bleed and die for it and for the salvation of its inhabitants.

So, if God cares that much about human society, and human beings in particular, he must care about our elections. I believe he does. But I think there is something he cares about even more. That is our willing participation in his plan for this world. And – this will come as a surprise to some who seem to think all truth and righteousness accrues to one side or the other in our political struggles – it is possible that human beings may, without displeasing God, differ as to how to accomplish God’s will on earth.

An example: The poor must be cared for. It is God’s will as best I can see in Scripture, that God’s children feed the hungry, even if they are the enemy. But how should we feed the poor? Many conservatives believe it is destructive to human character for the poor to be given public assistance through government programs. They prefer depending on private charity to accomplish that. Liberals, on the other hand argue that it is more efficient and equitable to collect taxes from all citizens and then distribute aid through well-managed government programs. Of course neither liberals nor conservatives are all one way or the other. Liberals welcome voluntary non-governmental aid to the poor and conservatives generally recognize the need for some government aid in certain circumstances. But for a hungry individual or a disadvantaged family it is probably irrelevant which side prevails as long as they have food on the table. Whichever system works to feed the hungry accomplishes God’s greater will; that the hungry be fed.

So, does God care who wins this election? Theoretically (or is that theologically), yes. His will is that we have good government. It is probably further his will that “the best man wins.” But he has left the decision up to us. Some of us will believe that the best path to accomplishing God’s will for our nation lies in a Republican victory tomorrow. Others believe it will be achieved through a re-election of Mr. Obama. I’ll presumptuously say that God doesn’t care who does it, just as long as the job gets done. It is righteousness (things done right) that pleases God.

Finally, we usually focus on the good that our preferred candidate will accomplish if elected. We need to humbly recognize that we elect men (someday perhaps women), not Gods. Every candidate I’ve ever supported, Republican and Democrat, has disappointed me in some way. So, if the man you deeply desired to see elected, loses, console yourself that you’ll not have to stand red-faced because of some blunder he might have made if he had been elected.

And don’t forget to pray for whomever wins. Pray harder and more sincerely if the man you opposed wins.

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