Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Lure of Political Eschatology: On Remembering to Remember that the World is in God's Hands, Not the President's

Four years ago, I wrote a post bearing the same title as this one, which I offered as a gentle reminder for Christians who were overly anxious about the supposed disastrous state of affairs that would occur if one or the other presidential candidate were elected. Reading back through it, I realized that I need only replace "McCain" with "Romney," and the relevance of the piece would be entirely undiminished. It is both sad and unsurprising that this is so: Americans (and American Christians) spy a precipice lying behind every election, just waiting to swallow up the universe. Christians should know better. Read below for why.

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Following the presidential race this year (or any year), I've noticed an inevitable trend that peaks its head with marked regularity, but is especially noticeable this year. It is an offshoot of what I will call political eschatology: the ongoing, pervasive belief that the fate of the world (at the very least, the nation) hangs on the outcome of the presidential election.

And in reading political commentary on both sides, surveying bumper stickers, and listening to everyday people talk about the candidates, you might just buy into the fact that the world will fall apart if America does not make the right choice.

Into this situation and these assumptions, then, the church bears good, if difficult, news: the world does not depend on America for sustenance, provision, life, virtue, or need; for those things the world depends on God.

I realize for many Christians that statement may not seem like anything new; however, the way people -- often Christians -- speak about this election belies trust in anything other than the American political process to hold together the fragile state of the global situation. That is not to say that the election of Obama or McCain Romney would not entail profound differences, or that these differences are not serious enough to cause one to vote with hope one way or the other. Rather, in remembering both God's promise to not forsake his creation and his calling of a people to offer the world an alternative to its rebellion, Christians cannot give into the alluring temptation that any nation is the key to holding the world in balance. The church has a better name than keeping-chaos-at-bay for what God has given us in Jesus: shalom (Hebrew for "peace" or "wholeness"). And the shalom of the people of God cannot be left behind simply because we have forgotten to remember that in Jesus God has given us a gift greater than military strength, or democracy, or political freedom.

So let conservative Christians affirm: if Obama is elected, the world will not end. The economy will not self-destruct, terrorists will not overtake the government, the judiciary will not dissolve the rule of law.

And let liberal Christians affirm: if McCain Romney is elected, the world will not end. The poor will not be forgotten, nukes will not be launched at a moment's whim, a new global ice age will not be inaugurated.

For the truth is indeed good news (and let all Christians affirm!): in the cross of Jesus of Nazareth, the world did end. But in Christ's resurrection the world has been made anew, the shalom of God's Spirit has been breathed onto God's people, and the "end" which will come with Jesus's return will not be destruction and finality, but restoration and renewal, forgiveness and reconciliation, redemption and new creation.

This is good news, because we, the church, do not have to worry about what will happen come the first Tuesday of November, for we know that "the God who moves the sun and the stars is the same God who was incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth," the crucified and resurrected one. That is, we know that neither Obama nor McCain Romney will put the world to rights, and neither can offer to the world the shalom of God.

And that is okay. But we will not do either candidate any good with messianic hope or eschatological doom. Instead, we must be patient -- that most important virtue of God's people -- and rest easy knowing that God is in control, and the President of the United States of America is not.


  1. Thank you for these thoughts. I am also very distressed by the way Christians around me so readily buy into the hope/doom scenarios surrounding the election, as if politics were the solution to the world's problems. Last night I did a devotional at church, and I began, "I am not scared," and then I immediately quoted Matt. 28:18. Nothing that happens on Tuesday will change the truth of that verse. "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness...all other ground is sinking sand." And that includes political candidates.

    I just wanted to offer my two cents as an Amen to your thoughts above.

  2. I love this. Just last night I had a friend ask why dont I consider voting and for all the reasonings stated above I presented to him. Thank you, couldn't have said it better. ��