Random post-election pastoral thoughts
The 2012 election brought to a close an incredibly long, intense, divisive and often highly unedifying election season. Many who cast their ballot for President Obama were elated, even overjoyed, by the results. (Understandably so, given that things looked very close for a time.) On the other hand, many who cast their ballot for Governor Romney seemed utterly deflated, some even despairing, by his defeat at the polls. Now, I must lay my cards on the table and level with the reader: I confess that I have neither the political expertise nor the desire in this format to offer any kind of political analysis of what transpired on Tuesday; nor do I think that it would be proper for me as a Minister of the Word to use this “pastor’s blog” format to offer the reading public my own personal political opinions, even in the unlikely event that the reader would actually be interested in what I think about things political. Nevertheless, with the election still fresh in our memories, I thought it might be appropriate to offer a few random post-election pastoral reflections. I hope the reader finds these thoughts interesting, helpful, maybe even edifying.
(1) Whatever your perspective on the recent election and its results, remember to keep an eternal perspective.
“This is the most important election of our lifetime!” So we heard it said many times during the recent election season. Perhaps there is truth in this claim. Perhaps not. While I certainly would not want to downplay the importance of this recent election in terms of its temporal significance and its potential impact upon our lives (and maybe even the lives of future generations), as professing believers in Christ we should remember that in the eternal scheme of things the 2012 election is but a blip on the radar screen. Think about it: 300 years from now (if not much sooner) the 2012 presidential election will probably be just a footnote in the history books, and all of us will have long since entered our eternal state (whether for good or ill). Far more important in the eternal scheme of things than the results of the recent presidential election is the scriptural call for us to give all diligence to make our own calling and election sure (2 Pet. 1:10-11). While the things of this world are important and significant (including presidential elections), and while we should give proper attention to our responsibilities as citizens; yet the things of the world to come are of far greater and more lasting significance. As St. Paul the Apostle tells the Christians in Corinth: “Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, ESV) To many of those who are this-worldly and politics-obsessed in their thinking, the inspired Apostle’s words may sound like “pie in the sky, bye and bye”; but in reality Paul is just speaking the eternal truth of God. We would do well to take his words to heart.
(2) In our politics-obsessed culture, let us as professing Christians and as a church keep our priorities straight.
This is closely related to what I wrote above about keeping an eternal perspective. If we keep a biblical, eternal perspective on things, then our top priority as believers will not be “fighting the culture war” (as important as the issues in the “culture wars” may be); nor will it be working for “social transformation” (as important as seeking to do our part to “transform” society in a more Christ-like, God-honoring direction may be). Rather, our top priority as believers and as a church in connection with the world around us is doing our part to fulfill Christ’s Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) by seeking to make disciples of all the nations. Cultural transformation, social justice, political action, etc., all may be good things when properly conceived, and all may have their place in our callings as believing individuals. But in the Great Commission and elsewhere in the New Testament Christ made the church’s corporate task in connection to the outside world (and thus its priorities) quite clear: The church is to preach the good news of eternal salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, to baptize converts (and their children), administer the Lord’s Supper to the baptized, teach and disciple them, and so forth. The ministry of Word and Sacrament is the church’s top priority. Not delivering political speeches (whether they be rightist “cultural transformationist” or leftist “social justice” speeches) from the pulpit under the pretense of preaching a “sermon.” (Political preaching is an all-too-common practice that involves a bastardizing and politicizing of the sacred desk, and thus a secularizing of preaching that amounts to blasphemy against God in the sacred ministry of the Word.) This is a long-winded way of saying that our top priority (both as individual believers and as a church) should be the gospel of Jesus Christ, not politics.
(3) Pray earnestly for your civil leaders, even if you strongly dislike and/or disagree with them.
Holy Scripture commands this of believers. “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (First Timothy 2:1-4, ESV) Paul wrote this at a time in history when the vast majority of those who were in “high positions” (such as the Roman Emperor) were godless, and often quite ruthless, pagans. Yet Paul tells Timothy that prayer should be offered in the church for such rulers. No matter how distasteful a government leader may be to you, and no matter how strongly you may disagree with his/her policies, remember that he or she is still a fellow human being, created in the image of God, fallen in Adam and in desperate need (as we all are) of a Savior; destined (as we all are) to one day stand before the great judgment throne of God on the Day of Judgment and give an account of his/her life and public service. We should pray for our President and other civil leaders to experience the gift of God’s saving mercy and every other spiritual and temporal blessing as well, along with praying that God would grant them wisdom, humility, and courage to govern with justice and in the fear of God. One suggested prayer that I have often offered to God in my devotions is found in The Book of Common Prayer (New York: Oxford University Press; 1928):
“O LORD, our heavenly Father, the high and mighty Ruler of the universe, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers upon earth; Most heartily we beseech thee, with thy favour to behold and bless thy servant, THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, and all others in authority; and so replenish them with the grace of thy Holy Spirit, that they may always incline to thy will, and walk in thy way. Endue them plenteously with heavenly gifts; grant them in health and prosperity long to live; and finally, after this life, to attain everlasting joy and felicity; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (pp. 17-18, in “The Order for Daily Morning Prayer”)
(4) Avoid either gloating or despair in response to the election results.
As I have checked out blog comments on both “left wing” and “right wing” websites after the election, two things really struck me (besides the generally juvenille, caustic, rude, profane and vile means by which many on both sides express their political opinions in such forums): It seems that many Obama supporters are utterly gloating over their man winning, and seem to take great delight in rubbing it in the face of those who supported the other guy (“Nya nya nya nya nya, take that you Romneybots!” is about the level of discourse I’ve seen). On the other hand, there seems to be almost utter despair on the losing side (“That’s it! We’ve lost our country!”; “RIP America!”; “I’m sooo depressed I don’t know how I can go on”, etc., just about captures the mood in such blog comments). I believe that both responses are childish, unloving, and (quite frankly) sinful. Both gloating (in the case of those who voted for the winner) and despair (in the case of those who voted for the loser) reveal a heart that trusts and hopes in man (in this case, political man) rather than in God.
For the gloaters: Congratulations. Your man won. I wish him well, and I hope God blesses him with wisdom and grace as he continues as our President. But remember that President Obama is not the Messiah, and you best not rest your hopes on him. Repent of your gloating. Trust in God, not government. And love your neighbor, even your republican neighbors.
For the despairing: Don’t despair. All is not lost. God is still sovereign, and Jesus is still Lord. We still live in what is arguably the freest nation on the face of the earth. Governor Romney would not have been the Savior of America, and his loss is not the end of the world. Repent of your despair. (Yes, despair is a sin, as the Puritans rightly preached.) Trust in God, not in elected officials. And love your neighbor; yes, even your democratic neighbors who voted for Obama. And, much as you might personally dislike and disagree with him, pray for your President. God’s Word tells you to do so.