The 2016 presidential election has come and gone. Unfortunately – but predictably – the partisan acrimony leading up to the election did not depart with it. This time around, presidential power was transferred from one party to the other. When this happens, partisans on opposing sides swap postures. Those whose party gained power rejoice, having spent the prior administration wringing their collective hands and decrying the prior administration’s policies. Conversely, those whose party lost out will take up handwringing and decry the grave danger the incoming administration poses. This remains the status quo until presidential power changes hands again and another cycle is completed.
It is easy to fall into the partisan mindset, seeing one party as righteous and the other as profane. To be sure, elections have consequences, and these consequences are often significant. The vacancy on the United States Supreme Court that was created by the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia, and the issue of who would receive the lifetime appointment to replace him, brought into focus just how consequential a single election can be. In this case the “balance” of the Supreme Court remains, for the most part, where it was before, whereas a different appointment to that position could have dramatically shifted the court on a number of important issues. As Christians, we should care about and for our governments – and that requires vigilance and involvement in the process. But in doing so, we must keep local, national, and even global politics in the proper perspective. There are several ways Christians can think about these issues from a Biblical perspective.
First, we can rejoice in God’s sovereignty over all aspects of our lives. The Bible is clear that God is sovereign over nations. We are told that God “rules over the nations” (Psalm 22:28) and “reigns over the nations” (Psalm 47:8). More specifically, “God changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings” (Daniel 2:21). While it is right to care about our nation and our civil authorities, we can rest in the assurance that God is sovereign over all.
Second, the Bible has much to say about how we should think about and relate to the civil authorities. Submitting to civil authorities is an easier task when the civil authorities are doing what is right; less so when they are acting contrary to God’s word. The original audience for I Peter was Christians who were under intense persecution from their civil authorities. Nevertheless, the admonition was, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good… Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor” (I Peter 2:13-14, 17). This strikes me as a corollary to God’s sovereignty – we can submit to civil authorities, even those who might overtly persecute us, because we know that God is sovereign.
Third, no elected official can “save us.” A great hopefulness can follow when a politician of your choosing replaces someone you disfavor. But these expectations should be tempered by the fact that all civil authorities are merely human and are therefore broken. We are told in the Psalms: “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation” (Psalm 146:3). Elections and political decisions are important, but even when we feel that the “right person” is in office, we err when we rest our hope in that person.
Fourth, we should remember that “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). We categorize ourselves into many different groups: nationality, political party, ethnicity, occupation, hometown, school, favorite sports teams, et al. We often identify ourselves by “membership” in these groups, and which one we emphasize depends on context. In the office or in the courtroom, I am generally identified by my vocation as an “attorney.” While these categories are not necessarily bad in and of themselves, they are bad when they become distractions. Our ultimate and overriding identity is as citizens of heaven, as co-heirs with Christ. When we get caught up in partisan-political frenzy, we emphasize our worldly “memberships” and minimize our identity in Christ (John 3:30).
Ultimately, our hope should rest in God’s sovereignty over human affairs. Keeping this perspective allows us to rise above partisan politics and neither trust our authorities to deliver us from evil nor despair that they will deliver us to evil.