Immediately after hanging up with a pro-Trump friend, shaking, sweating, angry as could be, I realized: This election is causing me spiritual problems.
God’s spirit shows itself in love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, as Saint Paul wrote to the church in Galatia. I demonstrated precious little self-control in this argument over Trump, much less kindness, or gentleness.
I am afraid. That is the bottom line. Like Peter coming to Jesus walking across the water, I lose sight of him in the fury of crashing waves. I am afraid because I love my country and this election matters.
Donald Trump may win, he may be as horrible as I fear, and we may lose what makes America truly great. I remind myself it’s just an election, trivial in comparison with the horrors people, both Christian and not, face around the world. But there is a “shadow of the valley of death” element to the election nevertheless.
The fact that we Christians have “won” so much in the West impedes us. We are shocked when history turns against us, even though Jesus himself warned it would happen. We are shocked when what should happen is not what does happen. We are shocked when we suffer, as if we have been God’s golden-haired children promised happy treats and easy lives. As if he owes us.
He does not. He never did. When we focus only on winning, we lose our way.
Faced With the Problem of Evil
God is in control, Christians often say, as if that solves the problem. God is in control, but people die of cancer, children die, ISIS fills Iraq with mass graves, earthquakes level entire towns in the dark of the night. God is in control, yes, but clearly his goal is not to bring about the outcome that we want or even the outcome we think is clearly, objectively the best.
I am afraid of what may happen, but my faith teaches that perfect love casts out fear. Perfect love is the very name of God, the essence of who he is, not a metaphor but a fact. In this fact, this love, we live and move and have our being, creatures of love as a fish is a creature of the sea, breathing in love, breathing out love. Somehow this existing in love, this turning from fear, makes those about to face the lions or the ISIS sword cry out in genuine joy: “If God be for me, who can be against me?” even as their blood waters the earth and their murderers wonder.
This is a great mystery. If they can face the sword, surely I can face a Trump presidency.
I know the lesson lies not in American Christendom, but in the suffering church, those white-robed martyrs who have gone before, those even now in chains in Iraq, in cells in Iran, outlawed in China, hunted in Africa. God’s sovereignty does not relate only to outcomes. It lies in something far wider, far grander than outcomes. This is not something I understand, but something I feel dimly and hope to learn.
It’s Hard to Love My Enemy
Beyond overcoming fear, or perhaps as part of the breathing in and breathing out of embracing love, Jesus was clear: Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.
Yet I find compassion and kindness a tall order. I am angry, angry with the shortsighted voters on the other side, angry with the people gleefully falling in line behind a dangerous man, angry with the ones who taunt and mock and blame those who disagree. Angry, too, at the old myths of the Left, of those who despise faith, those who blame faith for every wrong, those who see government as the God who will solve all problems. Surely Jesus didn’t mean them when he commanded us to love?
Surely He did.
This command assumes there will be real enemies, those who wish us harm, who hate us, who treat us badly. It would apply if things were far worse: If people were pursuing us with real violence, with murderous rage. Hate is real, but the Christian is called to return evil with good, hate with love.
I do not believe Jesus meant merely “do not argue” or “be nice to” people who are mean to us. Love is an affirmative word, a forceful action, a penetration of light into darkness, an illogical incursion into the realm of hate. It is no less than invading hell itself. It seeks blessings for the hateful, good things for those who strike us.
The command does not mean to capitulate, but to stand firm in truth in deed as well as word. How can I, who barely manages to be civil on the Internet to those who pester me, even begin to understand what it means to love your enemy if the enemy were ISIS and I were a Syrian Christian? How do I begin to understand the love of Corrie ten Boom to her jailers in a Nazi concentration camp?
This Election Is an Opportunity to Grow in Faith
This election, like any adversarial event, like every family meal, like every daily chore, presents a chance to lean into this radical love, a chance to embrace God’s economy and not my own. It is a chance to live out the truth I espouse: all people are precious to God, and their preciousness does not depend on their own behavior but on God’s vision of them. It is a chance to see with God’s eyes, to live and breathe it instead of merely stating it rhetorically.
It’s crazy. It sounds like the ramblings of a madman.
How does one love a ranter on Twitter, a racist alt-righter turning America into something she never should be, a belligerent family member, a muddle-headed friend? How does one not? If we do not, the same cycle of anger and hate will repeat to infinity. Only love breaks that chain.
This election is causing me spiritual problems. God grant that it forces me to my knees, that it forces us all there.