Project Description

October 2016

U.S. Elections: Guidance, Comfort, Wisdom

by Ramesh Richard

It used to be easier to vote for presidents. Or to choose to vote at all. Believers would look for candidates most aligned with our (hopefully) biblically informed views and vote in good conscience. Yes, we experienced internal conflict about colliding priorities, but we could still satisfy ourselves about whom we supported.

Every election seems the most decisive one ever for the future of the nation, the church, and the world. A sense of “vote-significance” has always been the case and should be; otherwise, democratic elections are façades.

And yet to me, this election seems poised to launch larger and longer consequences for the nation than ever before. This presidential election seems as existentially confusing as it is historically critical because neither candidate fully aligns with my views and both seem unworthy of my trust. Someone noted this is an Isaiah 1:5 moment: “the whole head is sick; and the whole heart is faint.” The quandary affects my desire to get out and vote.

But I need not wring my hands in fret and doubt. Why? We are not the only ones facing all-important elections this year. Citizens from Austria to Azerbaijan, Benin to Bosnia have already voted. Brexit and Colombia’s results surprised and shocked most people. Christians from other nations regularly face the dilemma of the “devil and the deep blue sea.” These fellow believers offer us some guidance, comfort and wisdom.

A Word of Guidance from Other Nations

The lack of trustworthy candidates is a standard feature across the world in every election. It might be somewhat new to Americans, even though historians tell us about “crooks and criminals, conmen and clowns” running for office throughout our short history. Any exceptionalism has never been in the character of these very human candidates, but exists only in our constitution, institutions, laws and processes that yield certain outputs and positive outcomes. Other nations survive, and we will too, regardless of who wins. So American Christian, do not fret!

Christians elsewhere cope straightforwardly with election shenanigans. Always a minority, they express their preferences but do not place their hope in any one person or even one political system. I remember attaining voting age in the world’s largest democracy, with over 1,000 unregistered parties broken off from nationally recognized ones. Election time had a circus feel. Bright, colored trucks with car-battery operated amplifiers carried candidates and their entourages. No one took all these “crooks and criminals, conmen and clowns” seriously except their groupies. I voted—not at all because I thought it was a moral obligation or that it made a major difference. I was merely convinced of the privilege of responsible citizenship, gained by the sacrifice of those before me, and an opportunity not given to many in our world. I voted based on two criteria: personal character (not personality) and potential consequences. So American Christian, do vote!

We can also learn from our brothers and sisters who process their “devil and sea” as part of the biblical framework of spiritual blessing and divine judgment of all peoples. If it wasn’t for the perspective of spiritual blessing, they might persuade themselves that God has absconded from their nations. They are instead convinced that God is loving their nations by calling individuals to repentance, stirring the Church to ministry, and bringing people to Himself—witness the recent history of Ethiopia, and China, and Nepal. They also believe their nations are experiencing judgment while being blessed: The lack of better candidates or options suggests divine judgment. The rapid regress in moral mores and social relations fulfills “last-days” prophecies and denotes divine judgment. Our brothers and sisters guide us theologically: American Christian, do not doubt God’s blessing or judgment!

Despite national brokenness believers find true hope in a robust theology of history—Jesus’ final Kingship, and geography—Jesus’ global Kingdom. The most broken nation in the Western hemisphere, Haiti, and the most broken nation in Western Africa, Liberia, are both democracies. At each election cycle, Haitian and Liberian Christians vote with hope in God and without trust in princes. Their guidance to us? American Christians, do trust! But only in God, in His promises and His purposes.

A Word of Comfort from Scripture     

Psalm 11 framed a message of mine to broken Liberia and encloses what I wish to share with a breaking America. Today we live the cry of Psalm 11, verse 3: “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”

The righteous have two options. One is to somehow “fly away” from reality. Christians all over the world understandably share the temptation to withdraw from the pervasive corruption, degeneration and violence in their environments (vs. 1–3). If we take the escape route, however, we make a horrific statement. Our retreat reveals that we lack radical confidence in God’s sovereignty. We don’t really believe He rules all (vs. 4a), tests all (vs. 4b-5), and judges all (vs. 6). The psalmist chides this faithlessness: “How can you say to my soul, ‘Flee as a bird to your mountain?’” (vs. 1b).

Whenever the righteous are afraid they find deep comfort in God’s sovereign awareness, activity and ability: “For the LORD is in His holy temple; the LORD’s throne is in heaven” (v. 4). God’s good and powerful control of global realities means no leader of any nation gets there without God’s placement. All earthly leaders are temporary—in the U.S., presidents govern 3,000 days at most. Some “democracies” have presidents for 30 years, yet they are all contingent. All leaders will die. All nations eventually cease.  

In his conclusion (vs. 7), the psalmist gives the righteous the second option. Since the Lord is righteous, and loves righteousness, he calls us to a thorough commitment to doing righteousness. We are to practice what pleases God even as society breaks down like a brittle breakfast bar.

So no Christians in any nation need to run from reality; they need to stabilize their reading of reality with a radical confidence in God’s righteous sovereignty and receive deep comfort in it. Then weakening foundations don’t abate our ongoing commitment to righteous influence and activity in every sphere of human existence.

A Word of Wisdom from Experience

In terms of elections, Christians do not fret, they vote; they do not doubt, they trust. If the character of candidates can’t be trusted to create an environment for engaging in righteousness (vs. 7), can believers move to a practical approach in decision making? Can they intentionally or intuitively analyze the risks of each office and each candidate and each policy to make practical decisions about their vote?

I recently found this approach over an exquisite dinner in Singapore, a remarkable city-state. Two older leaders of global stature, political experience and Christian conviction brought up U.S. politics.

Their practical advice to us? Vote for whoever will cause the most reversible damage.

I like that wisdom because we can apply it while being less than omniscient. Voting for the “least-worst” on the popular “lesser of two evils” principle assumes omniscience because we really don’t know if the lesser evil will turn out to be the greater good. Nor does this wisdom cater to a pragmatism where there is no biblical critique of character.

Here then is a principled voting practice: Mix a strong view of God’s sovereignty with a long view of human history, and then vote. Vote for whoever will likely cause the most reversible damage. This principle does not require omniscient awareness about “lesser evil” or “greater good” outcomes.  It does need information, knowledge, wisdom and action—action toward reversing what any democratic (or republic) system allows periodically: directly (or through elected representatives) overturning what policy or candidate if the elected leader does not keep promises.

Fortunately, this world is the worst environment Christians will endure, as it hastens our marginalization, even possible martyrdom. However, “the upright will see His face” (vs. 7c)—the ultimate, intimate yearning of every human heart. A personal grasp of this eternal guarantee through the Lord Jesus characterizes Christians past-and-present who practice righteousness during times of crumbling moral, social and economic foundations.  

If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? Believers can continue to do what their godly forerunners did and their global family does: Keep on trusting God’s sovereignty, and keep on doing God’s righteousness in the spirit, name and truth of their Lord Jesus.