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Jan  2018 02
God Does Not Elect Presidents

Every so often, a reader of my blog attacks me, or counter-attacks may be the way they view their retort. I take issue with something the current president has done, and my critic counters with: “You think the former president was the Messiah.”

No, I don’t.

God does not elect presidents. Or mayors. Or candidates for any other elected office in the U.S. “We, the People” elect, or at least our designated representatives do, such as the electors in the Electoral College.

Theologically, I have two huge objections to anyone’s claim that so-and-so is “God’s candidate.”

The first theological objection is that the United States of America is not ancient Israel. In the Hebrew Bible, one finds numerous claims of God choosing or rejecting one leader or another. Fine. But applying the same claim to elected office in the U.S. is not appropriate, despite how often some pastor or elected leader has made the claim.

The U.S. is not the successor to or the extension of God’s Chosen People. This nation is not the New Israel, the Promised Land, a Light to the Nations, or collectively the City Set on a Hill.

While there is aspirational value in all of these analogies, any claim that the U.S. is different or special in God’s eyes is theologically suspect. American civil religionists, those who reflect on the theological meaning of America’s national life, would do well to excise the comparison of the U.S. and Israel.

The only exception I’d make to this blanket statement is, to quote that theologically deep phrase from Spider Man’s Uncle Ben, “With great power comes great responsibility.” I do believe God holds each nation, corporation, and person accountable for what is done with one’s power, and the U.S. is currently the world’s most powerful nation.

America is not Israel, and no president is the messiah.

The second theological objection is due to human freedom. I believe we are free to do what is right, we are free to mess up, and we are free to experience genuine irony: the opposite of what we intend.

When I was in college participating in a seminar, we were discussing the topic of nuclear war. A pastor in the seminar remarked, “God has assured the church that the church shall exist until the end of time, that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I don’t think God will let us blow up the planet. God would intervene before that happened.”

I was shocked, the same way I am when someone says, “Everything happens for a reason,” as if that means there is a hidden, intending actor orchestrating everything that happens. Well, I believe in hidden intents, and I believe in a God who acts with an entirely different grasp of time, of cause and effect, than my or our puny minds can comprehend.

But I do not believe everything happens according to God’s plan. Elections are stolen. People are hurt. Accidents happen. Good women and men lose. Random events coincide. In life, we can get more than we earn or less than we deserve.

God loves us toward doing right but does not compel us to do right. God can use evil intentions and make something good come from them. But human beings can act in ways that frustrate God’s intent, that damage God’s work—not ultimately, but even a temporary derailment can negatively affect us mortals, as anyone who has suffered at the hand of another can attest.

We, the people, elect. We may believe one candidate’s values more closely align with God’s values than the other. We may believe God could work better with one candidate than the other (which makes God sound a lot like a career bureaucrat, foreign service employee, or judge!).

God does not elect persons for offices in the U.S. Voters do. I stand by that statement regardless of whether my chosen candidate wins.

Browse more posts by: Gary Peluso-Verdend, Phillips Faculty
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