Elections and God’s will.

One of the myths American Christians like to tell ourselves, is that democracy reflects God’s will. Vox populi, vox Dei/“the people’s voice [is] God’s voice,” is the old slogan.

A slogan which doesn’t come from the bible, of course. It’s a very old Roman slogan… which is actually derived from the old Roman pagan religion. The Romans believed one of the ways they could deduce the gods’ will was to observe the masses. If suddenly everyone in the city wanted something, they figured it was a sure bet the gods wanted it, and were influencing humans to express their desires. It gave them a religious justification for democracy… and at the same time, gave the priests a religious justification to ditch their traditions when they were no longer popular.

But it’s not Christian thinking whatsoever. You might recall it was the crowds (riled up by the head priests, but still) who called for Pontius Pilate to execute Jesus. Mk 15.9-15 You might recall because the crowds regularly defied God, he had to flood the world, scramble Babel’s languages, burn down Sodom, have the Hebrews slaughter the God-resistant Amorites and Philistines, then have the Assyrians and Babylonians slaughter the God-resistant Hebrews. The cycle of history is full of people who not only didn’t reflect God’s voice, but blatantly defied him.

It’s why Alcuin of York, who did know his bible, commented to King Charles of Lombardy (whom historians call Charlemagne) in a letter in 798, “Nec audiendi qui solent dicere, Vox populi, vox Dei, quum tumultuositas vulgi semper insaniae proxima sit.” For those who don’t remember their Latin classes: “Don’t listen to those who keep saying, ‘The people’s voice is God’s voice’: The commoners’ rowdiness is always just on the edge of insanity.”

As we’ve seen demonstrated in just about every American election. If you deny it happens in your party, you gotta admit it absolutely does happen in the opposition party.

The reality is that humans are totally messed up. Christians included. We’re selfish. Human nature is not “Love your neighbor as yourself,” Lv 19.18 which is why God had to command it; it’s to think of ourselves first, others second—if at all. Some of us even claim it’s a virtue to think of ourselves first, others second. Sometimes individually, like those who claim charity demoralizes those who receive it, so don’t be charitable. (They certainly aren’t.) Sometimes collectively, hence those “America first” slogans, which too often really mean “America only.”

And because of this human depravity, what does this make our democracy and our elections? Collective depravity. We’re not voting God’s will into power, much as we’d like to imagine we are. We’re voting for our will. We vote to lower taxes, not because don’t care about our government’s crushing debt, not because we don’t care about infrastructure and security, but because we individually want that money more than economic stability and the general welfare. We vote to legalize the things we want, and criminalize the things we don’t want.

We might claim Jesus likewise wants or doesn’t want them, but he’s an excuse. We use him to justify our own behavior, or project our ideals upon him to salve our consciences. The votes of any nation might be influenced by how Christian the people are, or aren’t. More often—as proven by how people tend to tell surveys and polls one thing, but vote very differently in secret—they’re a barometer of how hypocritical we really are.

So when an election doesn’t go our way—and we’re naïve enough to imagine it therefore didn’t go God’s way—let’s not foolishly ask, “Where was God in this election?” He was, as usual, sitting it out. Because the United States is not his country. His kingdom is. He rules us that way. Not through our system of government.

“But the emperor wields the sword.”

True, various Christians insist God has to get his hands dirty in our democracy, has to arrange for the right people to be in power, because Paul said so to the Romans.

Romans 13.1-6 KWL
1 Every soul must submit to higher authority.
For authority doesn’t exist unless it’s from God, and those in position exist under God.
2 Hence those who overthrow God’s authorities resist God’s system.
Those who resist God will receive his judgment upon themselves.
3 For rulers aren’t for good works, but evildoers, to fear.
You want to not be afraid of authority? Do good! You’ll have the praise of authority.
4 For it’s God’s servant to you, for your good.
When you do evil, be afraid: Authority doesn’t carry a machete for no reason.
It’s also God’s servant of vengeance, of wrath upon evildoers.
5 So you have to submit, not only because of wrath, but conscience also.
6 This is why you also contribute all your taxes.
They’re God’s ministers, diligently doing this thing.

So when Richard Nixon became President, it was God’s will. And when Gerald Ford became President, it was God’s will. And when Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton… well, you get the idea.

Partisans are just fine with the idea of God placing their party’s guys in place. Less so with the other party’s guys. You’d think this’d get them to recognize God isn’t behind every single election, but partisanship tends to blind ’em: Okay, maybe God sits out some elections, but certainly not when our guy won!

Likewise they tend to selectively apply the Romans 13 passage to elected officials, politicians, bureaucrats, and law enforcement officers they like. Not so much when they don’t. If they like her, God put her in place, and touch not the Lord’s anointed! If they hate her, the devil must’ve snuck her in there somehow. Or we somehow pissed off God, so to get back at us like a petty boss, he put someone we hate in charge, and now we gotta suck it up and suffer under her. (As if God’s vindictive like this at all.)

We gotta remember the context: All authority exists from God and under God. Ro 13.1 If it’s not under God, it’s arguably not from God either. If a ruler defies God and commands people to sin, he’s neither from nor under God. And we have plenty of examples in the rest of the bible of evil leaders, and people legitimately resisting such leaders. Remember when three of ’em got tossed into a furnace for defying their king? Da 3.20 These guys had no guarantee from God whatsoever that he was gonna rescue them. Da 3.17-18 He did, but still: These guys didn’t figure, “Well, resisting Nebuchadnezzar is resisting the authority God put over us…” What takes priority, the authority, or the source of authority? Right; we must obey God rather than men. Ac 5.29

If we overthrow evil leaders, are we in trouble with God? Actually, it depends! David, you recall, refused to overthrow Saul, and considered it a crime for anyone to do so, because he still recognized Saul as God’s anointed king. 1Sa 24.10, 26.9, 2Sa 1.16 Overthrowing Saul, David figured, was for the LORD to do. (Arguably he also recognized it’d set a lousy precedent: He didn’t wanna be overthrown once he became king.)

And there are legitimate ways to overthrow bad rulers. Impeachment, recall elections, votes of no confidence, voting ’em out; these are all fine. Assassination isn’t. But when your system doesn’t include or allow any other legal means of removing a leader, you do realize this is why Gideon, Jephthah, Judas Maccabee, and other folks in the bible had to lead revolts. Revolts which God endorsed, even instigated. He doesn’t have infinite patience for unrighteous rulers, y’know. Sometimes revolutions are precisely how he judges them.

So those who point at Romans 13 as if it’s God’s standard in every instance, are clearly not reading every other instance in the bible.

Whenever the Romans of Paul’s day were annoyed at their government, and talked about how Jesus was gonna overthrow it—and might’ve got the inappropriate idea maybe Jesus wanted them to overthrow it, and set up a nice restrictive theocracy in its place (which really implements the theocrats’ will instead of God’s, and is simply a different government for Jesus to overthrow), Paul’s advice was there to talk them down. Meant to talk us down too. Government has a legitimate purpose. Leaders are there to keep the peace and suppress evil. There are corrupt leaders who are exceptions, but legitimate leaders know better and rule benevolently. Don’t agitate against all rule; don‘t be an anarchist. Do good and your government should be nothing to fear.

Y’notice those Christians who hate and fear government? Generally they aren’t good. They don’t love their neighbors, don’t love their enemies, don‘t do charity, don’t show compassion, and definitely don’t want their tax dollars to go to the needy. Most of their views about government are dark Christian fantasies about how the devil’s gonna become president, and cage Christians much like our current president has caged immigrant children. Much of their worry stems from the fact—and kinda should!—that pagans won’t miss them at all if they’re rounded up. Because they aren’t the light of the world. They’re the dark.

So yeah, following Romans 13 requires a bit of wisdom. Authority comes from God. Certain individuals put into authority, don’t always come from God—like I said, he sits out our elections. Follow when they keep the peace, resist when they command sin, and don’t presume your party holds a monopoly on righteousness. And don’t wring your hands in fear and worry whenever the elections don‘t turn your way! We’ll have another in a few years. Go vote.

Oh, and the sooner Jesus returns to clean up our mess, the better.

Theodicy.