Note: issues 1-4 of the Voters Guide are archived at www.theliberator.today/blog (scroll from bottom).
If, as per the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the chief end of humanity is to “glorify God and enjoy him forever,” I found myself asking the question, “How can voting in the 2016 US presidential election be turned into an act of worship?” In the story of Naaman, Yahweh’s new follower appeals to Elisha: “But may the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master [the king of Aram] enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I have to bow there also—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this.” The entire tension in this part of the story is that Yahweh is the True and Living God and he is jealous for his people. Rimmon is a false god, an idol. Naaman intuitively knows the injunction, “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols,” a command that the Apostle John keeps in play for us New Testament believers in I John 5:21.
There was something very real at stake for Naaman, as there is for us in the 2016 election, as there is for us at any given moment as we perpetually renew our allegiance to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It has long been a trope that we should “honor God” by making sure that we vote for the “God-honoring” candidate with the “God-honoring” political platform. Many people are concluding that this is an impossible task in 2016. Here, however, is one way that you can worship God as you cast your ballot:
5. Vote worshipfully by honoring God’s absolute greatness.
Have you ever wondered what God must be thinking about the 2016 US presidential election? The trouble with such a question is that it invites projection. We project onto God whatever we ourselves happen to be feeling. Certainly God is not feeling frustrated or paralyzed or hopeless. Nonetheless, there’s one perspective on the election which I’m confident in attributing to God. The revelation of Scripture warrants it.
God thinks our election is small.
Now, don’t be distressed. He also thinks that the next four years are small. He thinks the executive branch of the US government is small. He thinks that every US Supreme Court appointment since John Jay has been small. He thinks that the United States of America itself is small. He thinks that the whole Twenty-first Century is small.
Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket;
they are regarded as dust on the scales;
he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.
He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
and its people are like grasshoppers.
He brings princes to naught
and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
No sooner are they planted,
no sooner are they sown,
no sooner do they take root in the ground,
than he blows on them and they wither,
and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff (Isaiah 40:15, 21-24).
A related theological term is condescension (con- with; descend- lowering.) The Lord Most High, when engaging the affairs of humanity, must lower himself. Condescension when found in a mere human being is an annoying, distasteful trait. Kings and queens used to get away with it—an impromptu carriage ride through the fetid streets of London, an open window, a kind word to a charwoman. Nowadays though, no one likes someone who responds condescendingly. But the condescension of God is an act of necessity—if he chooses to engage in the affairs of humankind, he has no choice but to do so with lowering. And the condescension of God is also an act of love—precisely because he chooses to engage in the affairs of humankind.
[Jesus Christ] Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Part of our human problem is that everything is relative, both our positions in life as well as our problems. Things which “loom large,” feel legitimately large. So, yes, to us the election of 2016 is a big deal, as is the role of America in the twenty-first century. But God is absolute, or infinite, in all his ways. For instance, his omnipotence doesn’t simply mean that he is more powerful than us—or more, more, wildly, unfathomably more powerful than us. It means that there is no space above him for which his power can grow. There is room in the space between us and God, or between a nation and God, for earthly entities to grow in power, but there is no space above God for him to grow --in power, or in wisdom, or in love, or in any other of his attributes.
God cares, but that just means he loves. He often doesn’t “care” in the way you and I mean it, or in the way we want him to care for our temporal agendas. For instance, I believe God regards our current choosing of the self-proclaimed “Leader of the Free World” as of no more consequence to him than the question of who becomes the Register of Deeds in Montgomery County, KS or the village headman on a rural Bhutanese hillside.
I fear I may have just condescended to the good people of Montgomery County or Bhutan (sorry—just trying to prove a point with a word picture.) And certainly I am not proposing that we treat the election of 2016 condescendingly, though we may be tempted to do so. No, today’s adverb is that we “vote worshipfully,”—that we identify an excellency in God and speak and act accordingly. For those who are still struggling to choose between the seven options on our ballot, the fact that God doesn’t think that our election is a “big deal” might give you the additional freedom you need to vote peacefully and quickly. For those who have made up their minds or have voted early, you can make this affirmation: “I exercise my option in full knowledge that God is great and this election is small.”
Worship, when done in spirit and in truth, confronts the idolatries among us. When Elisha proclaimed the divine prescription for Naaman’s leprosy—“Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed”—Naaman was enraged. He thought that surely the man of God would come out to him. He after all was the commander of the army of the King of Aram. He brought with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. He thought of his own mighty nation: “Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?”
Are not the mighty Mississippi and the wide Missouri worthy of God’s attention? Does he give no heed to the Susquehanna or the Columbia, the Brazos or the Colorado? Did not the Hudson and the Ohio civilize a continent? Did not George Washington himself kneel and pray on the snowy shores of the Delaware?
Donald Trump has campaigned on the slogan “Make America Great Again,” and our only objection has been about the word “again,” or about whether Mr. Trump is the man to pull it off. Hillary Clinton said in the second debate, “America is great, because America is good.” We all knew the point she was trying to make, but she is on even more dangerous ground. The Puritan colonist John Winthrop may have been the first to call America, “a shining city upon the hill” but John Kennedy (a Democrat, 9 Jan 1961) and Ronald Reagan (a Republican, 11 Jan 1989) and Barack Obama (a Democrat, 2 June 2006), and Ted Cruz (a Republican, 23 March 2015) have all arrogated a phrase from the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus himself had reserved for his disciples, indwelt by the Spirit of God through the Gospel of the Kingdom. Here’s what Mitt Romney said on March 3, 2016 in condemning a Trump candidacy: “His domestic policies would lead to recession; his foreign policies would make America and the world less safe. He has neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president, and his personal qualities would mean that America would cease to be a shining city on a hill.”
Cease? We never were. We were meant simply to be a nation. Yes, to strive greatly in the community of nations and in the annals of history. Yes, to do good to our neighbors under a God who judges rightly. But the United States of America was never to be conflated with the Kingdom of God. We can ask Nebuchadnezzar what God thinks about nations which stylize themselves as great (Daniel 4). We can ask Zedekiah, last king of Judah, what God thinks about nations which stylize themselves as good (Jeremiah 52).
I’ve grown suspicious of the Religious Right and Christian Dominionists who go around quoting God’s words from 2 Chronicles 7:14, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” I am suspicious of what they mean by a “healed” land, but I am more troubled by the fact that “humbling themselves” rarely includes an admission that the United States of America is NOT “God’s people.” We are not “called by [God’s] name.” We are called by Amerigo Vespucci’s name, an extremely lucky and fortunate financier and mariner. Humbling ourselves surely means that we meditate on God’s understanding of America: we are simply a nation, we are loved as are all peoples, and we are small in his sight.
The children's mealtime prayer is that God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food and all his other blessings. For however much it is true in the relativity of power that the United States is a "big deal" in this world and in that (brief, brief) period of human history since AD 1776 (a small year to God)-- nonetheless, to respond to that stature with anything other than a quiet, humble thankfulness is to court an idolatry that even someone as new to the faith as Naaman would have easily recognized and painstakingly avoided. The blessings of God, his healing, made Naaman very, very wary of idolatry.