Conservative evangelical Christian reaction to the results of last week’s presidential election has ranged from shock to irritation to disappointment to a seething, sputtering anger. There have been forecasts that the US will soon repudiate democracy in favor of full-blown socialism, that the economy will collapse within months, and even that President Obama is preparing the way for the Anti-Christ.
There is hand-wringing, gnashing of teeth, finger-pointing and talk of secession or moving to another country. The sky really is falling.
Now, is there cause for concern? Yes. As one wise person wrote, “the most troubling thing about representative democracy is that it is, in fact, representative of its people.” So, the people spoke at the ballot box and approved a redefinition of marriage in 4 states—emboldening new initiatives for gay marriage in at least 8 others. Two states removed criminal penalties from recreational marijuana possession. The clear demand for maintaining abortion as a fundamental right insured that millions more babies will be murdered.
From a moral perspective, we tipped down the slope towards moral anarchy and away from the high ground of God-honoring holiness. This election has clearly shown that if there has been a culture war, the secularists are winning the day. On the one hand, that forcefully clarifies the nature of the church’s mission and presence in the culture. On the other hand it is deeply troubling to anticipate where this may lead us and how it may impact lives, families and the fabric of our society.
All this is cause for deep and serious burden on the souls of God’s people. But there is a fine line between burden and despair. And honestly, most of what I have heard or read from evangelicals has been hopeless, gospel-less despair.
I fear that the emotional reaction has revealed where our hope lies—and that there may be a creeping idolatry at play in our souls. Many evangelicals have lodged our hope in a vision of a certain sort of America, one where with Biblical morality is legislatively enforced, a certain and assured economic prosperity is seen as God’s blessing and broad acceptance of Christians and their values means faith can be practiced and communicated with safety.
That world is gone—if it ever existed in the first place.
And since the reaction of Christians has been on the same basis as the talking heads on CNN/Fox/MSNBC – economics, politics and national identity- we are once again being seen and heard as essentially no different from any other American, except that we go to church on Sunday mornings.
So, how do we embrace a burden, without slipping into despair? How can we be heard as gospel people in a time of great national difficulty?
This is where the ancient prophet Habakkuk can be such a help. Habakkuk watched as his beloved nation Israel disintegrated and what he perceived to be godless opponents took over.
So, he boldly questioned God: “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry ‘violence’ and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity and why do you idly look at wrong?” (1:2-3) God, where are You? Why is this horrible thing happening? And by people who will not recognize or love You like I do?
God answers, “Look among the nations and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.” (1:5) You wouldn’t understand if I explained it to you but this very moment is a part of My plan. I am at work right now.
Isn’t it astonishing that the very people who loudly affirm the sovereignty of God get so bothered when He exercises it? God’s redemptive purposes are as powerfully progressing today as they were before the first Tuesday of November. But His eternal purposes do not necessarily presume the prosperity, security, supremacy, ascendancy, exceptionalism or even existence of the United States. His purposes were well on the way before 1776!
Habakkuk fires back: “O Lord my God, my Holy One….You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he? (1:13) How can it possibly be that your sovereign plan includes the ascendancy of secular people, many who are obviously not Christian, who are morally liberal — even supporting the holocaust of abortion? This does not match God’s holy character or ways.
So our incensed and despairing prophet says “I’m will take my stand at my watchtower and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint.” (2:1) God, explain this to me where I can understand or show me how to deal with it.
How can a lover of God even go on in this environment where the nation is going to hell in a handbasket?
God (smiling I think) answers: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who hears it.” (2:2) Basically “Habakkuk, I’m going to say this slowly (for the slower among you) and I’m going to use a few words you can write really big so when your head and heart start spinning you’ll still be able to see it and remember.”
“For still the vision [God’s perfect purpose] awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end-it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. Behold his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous will live by his faith.”(2:2-4)
So, here is the key. The righteous (those who have entered a relationship with God through Jesus Christ) are to live by faith. Yes, that is the very means of salvation, the way a faith-relationship with God begins. Faith trusts the gospel of Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection as the power of God to rescue a sinner from certain, eternal death. (Rom.1:16-18)
But the righteous is to live –present tense- by his faith. Faith—confidence in God, His character, ways and purposes. To use Brennan Manning’s wonderful phrase, it is “ruthless trust” in our heavenly Father.
So, right now, in this moment, when it may feel like we are on an irreversible cultural slide; when the world feels like it is slipping away, we are to live, speak, react, relate by faith in our holy, wise, faithful, loving King.
What does that faith look like? Does it mean we have to go underground or become glassy-eyed Stepford Christians who simply parrot “praise Jesus”? No, it first means brutal honesty about the situation and our emotions. Hear Habakkuk: “I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me.” (3:16) Where we are headed and what we may experience as a country simply terrifies me. That’s the burden.
But gospel-driven faith doesn’t stop there, and sink into despair. Faith presses deeper. Read this slowly:
“Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
The produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
The flock be cut off from the field,
And there be no herd in the stalls….”
[in an agrarian culture, this is roughly equivalent to saying, “if the economy goes into full-blown depression, if the stock market fails and we fall off the fiscal cliff, if there are not the slightest signs that things will get better and it looks like the whole way if life we have known is going to disappear….]
“…Yet I will rejoice in the Lord
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord is my strength;
He makes my feet like the deer’s;
He makes me tread on my high places.”
The whole world of faith funnels through that tiny word: yet. No matter what the political, economic, cultural or moral circumstances, yet I will rejoice in the Lord. No matter the weight of the burden on my soul, the fears that grab my heart, the uncertainties that plague my days or the tears that flow down my cheeks, yet, I will take joy in God.
There is faith in that sort of stubborn joy. There is hope in that quiet yet.
And there are unbelievable possibilities for mission in that hopeful, gospel-drenched joy. Our mission has not been changed a flicker because of an election. If anything, the necessity for making disciples by the spread of Jesus’ gospel is even more clear.
How are we being heard? As whiners who lost and are marginalized? As megaphones for a political party or special interest agenda? Or as a people ever more confident in our God and the promise He holds out to all peoples?
Quiet joy in the face of certain defeat is upside-down and unexpected in our culture. It is compelling and mysterious. If we, evangelical Christians, would begin to “live by our faith”, to share honest, burdened yet peaceful, hopeful, joyful, God-ward faith in our coffee break conversations at work or with neighbors when talk turns to politics, culture or economics, I suspect questions would be raised.
And when they ask, we can tell them of the gospel at our heart’s core, the sweet good news of Jesus that is the hope for change for all lives, all people, all countries, for all time and eternity.