If you love autumn and want to enjoy the loveliness of blazing colors, to settle into the coziness of coming in from the chill of the outdoors, feel content with life, then don’t open your Facebook account. If your feed is like mine, it is filled with some version of fear, despair, or anger. All three probably appear in the same post from one friend after another sharing a blog or news article about the presidential candidates. Face to face conversations carefully refer to the situation as unbelievable. We don’t agree with people who plan to vote for the other major party nominee, but we do agree on one thing: this is crazy.
Every four years in recent times, the frenzied political rants become shrill and ugly in the last month before the election. We all agree that it has reached new heights—or depths—this time around. But something is consistent with other election years: we find hope in one candidate’s platform, but fear catastrophe if the other one is voted into office.
And what we usually find a year or two later is that it is neither as bad (the other side won) nor as great (my choice won) as anticipated. Sure, we can make a case for great advances or terrible outcomes from each president’s term in office. But so far, at least we still have the freedom to talk about it, and to vote, and to conduct our lives in relative freedom.
But that is scant reason for hope. Instead my primary source of hope is in our sovereign God. Wait, don’t stop reading at this point. This is more than a sermon about God’s power and faithfulness. I’d like to pinpoint specific reasons for hope that are functions of my belief in God.
I find hope in the reactions to the political candidates. Every person who points to Donald Trump’s attitude toward women and immigrants and Muslims, or Hillary Clinton’s actions as Secretary of State regarding emails or Ben Gazi, and says “That’s wrong!” is displaying an ethic that is functioning properly. Revulsion itself is an indication that we cannot stomach abuse, deceit, or greed. And we shouldn’t.
That gives me hope.
Most people I know understand that something is out of whack. This indicates that the imageo dei in each person is alive and well. God has implanted the divine within each of us, so that we automatically have a sense of right and wrong. The question that arises for me, then, is this. What are we going to do about it?
I admit, that question threatens me with despair. How can we raise up leaders who will have more integrity? How can anybody survive the process of getting enough backing and becoming their party’s nominee without being tough and yes, ruthless? As I looked at the potential candidates before the primaries, I automatically ruled out people whom I would love to see as my president, because they didn’t have the political chops (read: ambition and ruthlessness) to make it to the top of the heap.
Is this all there is? we wonder.
My hope was renewed in an unexpected way a couple of weeks ago. Somebody reminded me, in a context having nothing to do with politics, that the Roman Catholic church is now headed by Pope Francis. This man is from a part of the world that might be considered an embarrassment to the conference of cardinals. (Catholics, please forgive me if I use the wrong nomenclature here! No offense intended.) Latin American Catholicism looks different from the version at the Vatican. And Francis is a Jesuit! He is not supposed to aspire to fame and leadership. He is even a controversial figure, having been exiled by a superior for his rigid policies and harshness as a leader.
I know Pope Francis isn’t perfect. But he is a servant. He is indeed a follower of Jesus, humble, open to God, apparently ready to break with the traditions of the church if necessary in the process of manifesting God’s kingdom on earth. Sounds like Jesus to me. Maybe his exile is exactly what he needed to get to that point.
Though I am an outsider to the Church of Rome, the election of this pope seems like a miracle.
And if that can happen, the United States is not lost. God cares about us. And if I read the Scriptures properly, it is when we are broken and despairing that we are ready to go to God for help. God always responds with hope and healing when we are ready to admit that these are what we need.
We are responding to the political situation with the realization that our country—that we—are broken. And so we are ready to turn to God who will help us see what is right and fair and good for all of us.
Let’s do that. Let’s pray first, last, and always. But then let’s be ready to do what God asks each of us to do, individually and together. Not in a self-righteous, we-have-all-the-answers kind of way. Not with a chip on our shoulders or expecting opposition at every corner. Not demanding that “returning to God” has to include school prayer or this policy or that one, or all is lost. Let’s trust God to show us how to lead with compassion, how to listen to one another without condemning one another. Let’s teach our children that the way of Jesus is truly the way to a society where every person matters and no one is denied care and respect.
To paraphrase Psalm 121, “I lift up my eyes to the political ads. Where does my help come from? It does not come from the best or the worst of our leaders. My help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.”