Tomorrow, Americans will decide whether they want to install a crook or a fool as the leader of the most powerful nation in the world. It will be a dispiriting day to cap a shameful election season.
And then the next day will come, and we’ll have a crook or a fool as the leader of the most powerful nation in the world and you and I will still have our family and our church and our job and our little place in the world, and things will go along very much as they were.
Everyone swears that this election is the most important in our lifetime (as they swore in 2012, and 2008, and 2004, and 2000, and most elections since roughly 1800). The contrarian in me wants to agree with David Harsanyi that this is the least important election in our lifetime, but the truth most likely lies somewhere in between. As with the rest of life, we will know the election’s true import only in hindsight and only partially.
But regardless of the outcome and its impact on our lives in years to come, the most important lesson of the election may simply be a warning. By the providence of God, and contrary to their own electoral self-interest, our major political parties both nominated disgusting, unpopular candidates who are disgusting and unpopular precisely because they mirror back at us almost all of the vilest elements of our own culture. Think of an immoral ugliness that is characteristic of our nation, and you can probably find it nicely condensed, sludge-like, in one or both candidates. Sexual debauchery? Check. Absolute selfishness? Check. Pride? Check. Lack of self-control? Check. Idolatry of power? Check. Disdain for God’s law? Check.
A glance in the mirror is not pleasant when you are filthy, but it can be a help if you don’t realize how filthy you are. I am convinced that this election is, at least in part, a mercy from our merciful God, showing our nation what we are before (I hope) it is altogether too late. Yes, it is also a judgment, because one of our wicked candidates will govern, but it is a mercy because those same wicked candidates offer the gift of self-awareness, which is the first step toward repentance.
Realistically, do I think November 9 will see a national wave of repentance and revival? No. But could a ripple of shame and reflection after the election be used by God to set in motion larger plans? Absolutely. I have taken great comfort recently in our Father’s promise in Jeremiah 18:7-8, “If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it.” It is not too late. It is never too late.
But we’re not going to turn this nation around with an election. Here’s a good rule to remember: The culture shapes the law, the church “salts” the culture, and you are the church.
To take one example, it is true that gay marriage is now the law of the land because the Supreme Court said so, but the issue only got to the Supreme Court because public opinion shifted from 57%-35% opposition to gay marriage in 2001 to 55%-37% support in 2016—and state laws shifted right alongside it. And the reason public opinion shifted so swiftly and decisively is because the American church could not offer credible opposition to same-sex marriage after winking at pornography, premarital sex, and unjustified divorce for decades. When you don’t live your sexual ethic or enforce it on those inside your doors, it’s a tough sell to suggest that anyone else should care about it. “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet” (Matt 5:13).
If we want to get the culture back on track, we need to restore the testimony of the church—and that’s rather convenient, actually, because we are the church. Of course, you and I are not the whole church, but that is okay. Coordinating the affairs of all God’s people is God’s concern, not ours. Our concern, our part, is the little sphere of influence and stewardship within which our King has placed us. God did not give Adam and Eve a planet; he gave them a garden.
Are you doing, within your “garden,” what you wish the church would do in our nation? Are you praying, obeying, loving, trusting? If so, you can be certain that your work will bear fruit. Perhaps if you could peak over the garden walls you would see a million other Christians similarly stirred, similarly working, preparing a rich harvest that will surprise all of us, and the world too. Or perhaps your work will be a lonely light in a growing darkness, only noticed by a few—the hungry few who would have starved without you, the lonely few who would have despaired but for your presence, the dying few who were led by you from eternal darkness into eternal light.
Either way, it seems a work well worth doing.