Surviving November Madness
The political process in a representative government is by nature competitive. Sometimes it is more exciting to watch than a sports championship. We cheer for “our” candidate representing our political team and hope enough people get out and vote to pull him or her over the finish line. Many people invest time and money into the candidate’s race to help create the edge that is needed for victory. And then we count down with the clock until election day when the game is over and we (hopefully) learn who won the office.
In fact, watching the poll results come in late into election night reminds me of March Madness. Maybe we should call it “November Madness.” There are two predominate teams, the Red Team and the Blue Team. The team to score the most seats in the House or Senate wins the trophy of political prominence. I try not to follow the results play-by-play, but sometimes I can’t help myself. The results are still coming in even as I write this, and right now it appears to be a tie game. Fox News, one of the Referee organizations, is reporting, “Down to the Wire: Key races across the country still too close to call as control of Congress hangs in the balance.” Not the “red wave” some were hoping for. Not an upset—more of a nail-biter. I can feel myself pulling for my team, wondering if it’s going to come down to one of those five-second plays where one of the players has to take a buzzer shot from back of the three-point line.
Why do we get caught up in the political process like this? Of course, not everyone pays close attention. Some people just aren’t into sports, either. But why should Christians care what happens in the political arena of their country?
Some, in fact, argue that the political process is what it is and it doesn’t matter what team wins. After all, the first Christians were locked into a government that was decidedly controlled by a single party—the Roman emperor. And they had no say in choosing him. No Roman emperor ever had to come up with a snappy campaign slogan, unless it was, “Bow before me or die.” If there was a “red wave” it was only due to the bloodshed that followed when some province or people group in the empire decided to revolt. And yet, it was in this day that the apostle Paul, even under an emperor as notorious as Nero, wrote to Christians living in Rome to encourage them to honor the government and even pay taxes when required (Rom 13:1–7). Besides all this, the Bible speaks about the fact that the world will get much darker before the light dawns and the return of the King, so why worry about it.
But I think the answer is we engage in the political process not because we think by our human effort we are going to bring in the kingdom. I think it’s because, as Christians who desire to honor Christ, we want righteousness to flourish in the land, not wickedness. Because the Lord delights in righteousness, but wickedness is a grief to him. So we vote in a way that seems the best course of action to stem the tide of darkness and promote the good. We are to be salt and light after all (Matt 5:13–16). We know the Bible says that the world will grow darker before Christ returns to establish his kingdom. But when he taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come,” he also said to pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10).
Nevertheless, if there is a caution in all of this, it is that we cannot put our hope in the political process. Our candidates will sometimes run for office and lose. And if they win, they are not always going to do what they promised to do, or they will try and be defeated. And if they win the office and they keep their promise, their new policies will not always have the intended change. And even if a successful policy change impacts society for good, the deepest need that people have will still exist—that is, their desperate need to be brought from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Col 1:13).
Our greatest hope should be the visible, unhindered rule of Christ over the earth. Until that time, we should be respectful, peace-loving citizens of our country, who bring hope to people by pointing them to Christ but are unwilling to bow to the culture.
Daniel continues to be one of the crowning examples of this balance between engaging politically yet ultimately trusting God. In a time when the little nation of Israel was overrun by Babylon and carried off to become citizens of that foreign nation, Daniel and his three friends show us what it means to be respectful and helpful and prayerful in their relationship with the government of the land, but also to remain unyielding in their right convictions even under political pressure. They show us an example of making appeal to authority, applying godly wisdom to situations, and being loyal to the government where they could, but also being clear where their ultimate loyalty lay.
But the real story in Daniel is not what Daniel and his friends were doing, but what God was doing. You may have noticed that the first six chapters of the book of Daniel follow the same template. Each chapter is not quite as predictable as a Hallmark movie, but close. At the beginning of each chapter, Daniel and/or his friends are reminded by the king who he is, that they are under his authority. Then by the end of the chapter, usually following a major crisis that threatens God’s people, God has reminded the king who He is, that the king and all the world is under God’s authority. And the climax of each chapter is the pagan ruler’s acknowledgement or confession that God is the real King.
Daniel 1: God honors Daniel and his friends’ determination to keep themselves pure in the king’s court by giving them a wisdom that set them far above all of the other talented young men.
Daniel 2: When God reveals to Daniel not only the interpretation of the king Nebuchadnezzar’s dream but the very dream itself, the king honors Daniel and confesses, “Truly, your God is a God of gods and Lord of kings” (Dan 2:47).
Daniel 3: After God miraculously delivers Daniel’s three friends from immolation when they refused to worship the king as a god, the king makes an actual decree: “Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way” (Dan 3:29).
Daniel 4: God humiliates the king with madness for seven years because he would not give him the glory for his mighty kingdom, but took the credit for himself. This experience wrings from the king’s mouth the most amazing confession from a pagan king in all of Scripture. You may be familiar with these words, but you ought to read them again carefully, considering that the most powerful world leader of the day is speaking them as a testimony to the sovereignty of God.
At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,
for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, “What have you done?”
36 At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble (Dan 4:34–37).
We could go on, seeing this template in chapters 5, where God brings down the nation of Babylon, and in chapter 6, where those in the Persian officials who plotted against Daniel were themselves destroyed. But the pattern is clear. In each chapter, the God of a seemingly insignificant nation of people—just another nation the Babylonians have plundered, a people who appear to be weak and their God weak—demonstrates to the greatest kings of the time that he is the one who truly rules over heaven and earth. And the rest of the book of Daniel is God’s prophetic word to Daniel himself, detailing the way that God will ultimately bring an everlasting kingdom—his kingdom.
Being reminded of the truth that God is still ruler over all, that he is sovereign even in the U.S. political process, does not discourage us from engaging in the political process. But it should encourage us to keep our trust in political victory in context, to not to be too discouraged at our political defeats, nor rejoice too much at our political victories. But we must always walk in faith and obedience, no matter what happens politically, remembering that in the ultimate Game, the Lord is already the champion, the enemy has already been defeated, and all human government is moving unmistakably to that day of celebration when every knee shall bow (Phil 2:9–11).
As discussed by Greg Stiekes on The Steve Noble Show on November 10