THE US ELECTIONS : God’s Providence and Man’s Repentance – two lessons from Syria
By Mike Burnard
Mike has visited (frequently), lived (briefly), served, preached, ministered and worked in the US over the past 30 years. Mike previously served as Vice-President of Open Doors International, director of INcontext International, and currently serves as Analytical Strategist at dia-LOGOS.
On 3 November 2020, the world watched in suspense as the greatest global democracy went to the polling stations to elect the new commander in Chief of the United States of America. Four days later the provisional result was announced. Media outlets have called Biden the winner based on their assessment of all of the counting and outstanding votes. They have made the assessment that Biden has a significant enough lead in enough states to get the 270 electoral college votes he needs to be president and that there’s no path forward for Trump. As a matter of law, however, state results are not official until they go through a statewide certification process. On 14 December, the electors chosen by their respective parties will all meet and cast their votes for president. The electors are chosen based on the certified winner of the popular vote.
It does, however, seem conclusive that Former Vice-President, Mr. Joseph (Joe) Biden has won the 2020 US election. The election numbers painted a clear picture, even though still in question, that “we the people” have spoken. Mr.Biden has won 290 of the electoral college votes to win the election (at the time of writing) – 20 more than the 270 required to win. Biden has also won the popular vote by a margin of more than four million votes and has broken the record for the most votes cast for any US presidential candidate (previously held by Barack Obama).
Mr. Trump will remain in office until 20 January 2021, when Biden will be inaugurated. Ironically, Mr. Joe Biden, who had just turned 30 and was one of the youngest people to be elected to the Senate when he was sworn into the upper chamber in 1972, will now be the oldest president to take office in 2021 at the age of 78. He has spent the last 48 years of his life in American politics
But the victory came at a cost. Many observers commented that this was arguably one of the most polarising elections in US history. Few media sources, including CNN, FOX News, CBN, BBC, etc, had the ability to provide non-biased reporting and the media became the largest source of partisanship. Eventually, when Biden was announced victor, the exuberant joy of those who voted for him was only matched by the utter despair of those who voted for Mr.Trump. There were few that stood neutral in these elections and few who dared to predict the outcome.
The major question in the hearts of all who followed the elections, American and non-American alike, is what the future will hold for a nation that is pivotal to global peace, global faith, and global prosperity. Can America rise above the destructive political climate of division, suspicion, and partisanship?
As a non-American observer, I am convinced, no – I am convicted, that there are two spiritual foundations for Christians to embrace in this season of new leadership, regardless of who you voted for. Sadly, these principles are often completely misunderstood, misrepresented, and misinterpreted
- Gods providence – not just accepting
- Our repentance – not just repenting
Gods providence – not just accepting
Yes, we believe and confess, according to Romans 13:1, that there is “no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” If we truly believe this then we can confidently confess that God has not lost control of the USA neither has His Church. But what does this mean? Shall Bible-believing, born-again, spirit-filled believers now accept their fate and simply reside with an understanding that God also approves of all the policies and it is therefore up to Him to make it work.
On the website https://www.relevantmagazine.com/faith/does-bible-really-mean-god-appoints-our-leaders/, Drew Griffen best describes it as follows:
“We who believe the Bible know that all authority comes from God and no person, from parents to presidents, teachers to tyrants rise to that position apart from God’s providence. As Abraham Kuyper, the Dutch theologian and politician, once said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
So God’s providence and control is not in doubt. The question we’re actually seeking to answer is this: Does God’s providence equal His approval?
As Christians, we don’t just want to know God’s will, but to stand in it. So if the answer is “Yes,” to if God’s providence equals His approval, then God has chosen national leaders (whomever they may be), He must approve of the national leaders and we should support the national leaders, too.
The problem with this line of reasoning is that it quickly abandons reason and actually runs counter to the character of God. In order to navigate this kind of question, we have to understand that God’s providence is absolute, but His approval is not.
UNDERSTANDING THE TENSION
Simply because something occurs under God’s providence does not mean that He approves of it or desires that it happens. For example, Scripture tells us that we are all sinners, but we know that God neither approves of our sin, nor does He desire for us to continue sinning. God provides grace for sinners, and the greater the sin, the greater God’s grace.
But, Paul makes it abundantly clear in Romans chapter six that this does not mean that we continue to sin in some kind of misguided effort for grace to abound. Likewise, God reigns over human affairs and in his providence leaders rise and fall. But we absolutely should not assume that all human affairs meet God’s approval.
Of course, understanding the difference between God’s providence and His approval creates tension. The chief example of this tension is Jesus’ crucifixion. Pilate, in a rare democratic move, places Jesus before the people. The authority is his, the choice is theirs and the people chose and cried out “crucify Him!”
Christ, the creator, was crucified on the very tree He created and was put to death under the authority which He granted to Pilate. At no point was Jesus in limbo, but at no point did God call that event good. Was the crucifixion an evil deed? Yes. Was it ordained by God before the foundation of the world? Yes. Was it committed by evil men, who stood guilty with blood on their hands? Yes. Did God redeem that evil act, so that the very blood on their hands had the power to save them? Yes!
Fast forward to today. Is God sovereign? Yes. Do we have choices in the course of human events? Yes. Are we held responsible for the choices we make? Yes. Does God’s sovereignty give us license to make poor decisions? No, it does not.
Understanding how God’s providence and His approval relate does cause tension, and in that tension faith thrives.
COMFORT IN THE CHAOS
Everything that we do in our lives, every vote that is cast, every leader that ascends, all of it happens under the providence of God. However, God’s sovereignty does not give us license for sinful choices. So as election proceeds, take comfort in knowing that God stands in control amidst all this chaos. But remember, we are called not merely to rest in His control, but to actively display His character in the choices we make. Leaders may rise under His providence, but as long as we choose them, we will be held accountable for whether they meet with His approval.
This places a high premium on the Church in a post-election USA. The Church cannot afford to lose her witness. The Church now needs to respond with love, prayer, forgiveness, and reconciliation. The Church needs to be seen as peacemakers, not peace-breakers. The political environment is the perfect platform for the church to reflect a Christ who is adored as the prince of the peace and the lover of souls. This is not the time to rebuke, condemn, fear or slander.
A LESSON FROM SYRIA
During a recent visit to war-torn Syria, we stood amazed as we listened to the confessions of those who have suffered and witnessed unimaginable hardships. “May our hardships translate into compassion for others.” Was the prayer of one pastor. “We are people of the cross. We are people who live for the better of our nation.” Said another. “We pray that our lack will never prevent us from being more generous.” Said another as we entered a room with tables packed to the rim with food fit for a king.
We cannot allow our differences to highjack our mandate to love and replace it with fear and suspicion. We cannot allow hardships to make us bitter and angry. We cannot be led by the politics of suspicion instead of the word of God and a message of forgiveness and reconciliation. As Christians, we contain the only Source of peace and we cannot afford to corrupt this source with hatred and division. We are the people of the cross. Light looks at its best when it is dark.
Sadly, it seems like for many, defending our faith seems to have taken priority over living our faith.
Our repentance – not just penance
Without exception, whenever Jesus preached, He challenged His followers to reposition themselves and engage with the world from a redemptive and Kingdom perspective: not protecting their faith but proclaiming their faith. Not seeing themselves as victims but engaging as victors. Not fighting to be acknowledged but denying the self and living to die. This is the benchmark of a transformed life.
Have you ever wondered what the first words were that Jesus preached? Scripture tells us in Matthew 4:17: From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’
The first public instruction out of His mouth, as we read in Matthew 4:17, was later translated into the Greek imperative verb METANOEO [MET-AN-O-EH’-O], which means “to think differently”, to “change your mind” or “reconsider”. It certainly implies to “repent”, as it was later translated from Latin, but it means so much more.
Without making it too complicated, the root in the word used for “repent” is NO-EH-O, which means “to exercise the mind (observe)”. META means “to modify”. It is the same word used in “metamorphose” – which means to change the form or transform.
The word that Jesus used was a word that requires a primal change of position, worldview, or way of processing and perceiving information and then changing behaviour accordingly. Matthew 4:17 commands us to modify the way we think because we now belong to a different world – the Kingdom of Heaven. What Jesus preached, from the first words He uttered, was for His followers to think differently, to reposition, to modify the ways of exercising the mind because we now function in a different Kingdom.
Jesus believed in transformation and a change of priorities. Jesus understood the reality that we do not think differently because our lives are renewed but we live differently because our minds are renewed. The flow of behavioural changes starts with our thoughts. Thoughts lead to actions, actions lead to habits, habits lead to discipline, discipline builds character, and character determines destiny.
Romans 12:2 confirms this principle: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing, and perfect will.”
This is probably the biggest challenge for Christians today: not information or knowledge, but how we position ourselves politically, or economically, in our perception of global news. We need the mind of Joshua and Caleb who were the only two Israelites in a whole generation who saw the promised land – simply because they “had a different spirit” (Numbers 14:24).
We need not only to repent but to rethink. As we watch the news and consider the election result, we need to observe and respond from a REDEMPTIVE position.
Transformation will require the Biblical definition of a full repentance; reposition, rethink, and repent.
A LESSON FROM SYRIA
When we travelled through Syria we were deeply challenged by the respect the non-Christian community had for the Church; soldiers, Muslims, and non-believers alike. During the eight years of war, the church had discovered a key to reach the hearts of the nation – they remained impartial and never chose sides between the rival factions of government, rebels, or freedom fighters. This gave the Church favour beyond comprehension.
From the border with Lebanon, up to Aleppo in the North, we went through more than 70 checkpoints. At every checkpoint our contact would greet the soldiers with these words: “We are people from the church”. While other vehicles were searched, the group was waved through with a warm smile and heartfelt “ahlan wasahlan”, “welcome welcome”. This seemed surreal in a majority Muslim nation where you would normally hide your Christianity.
For Christians in America, the message is this: In order to live a full witness for Christ we cannot favour one party and demonise another. A true person of peace is the one who listens to all and councils with impartial wisdom. Anyone that chooses sides, politically, culturally or racially, becomes irrelevant as a reconciler and peacemaker.
May God have mercy on us
PRAYER FOR THE PRESIDENT
The following open letter was first offered in a blog by James Emery White before the 2008 election. They’ve since posted it before all national presidential elections. This serves as a good reminder that the Bible is uncompromising in our response to our leaders, whether we voted for them or not.
Dear Mister President:
You have been elected to our nation’s highest office and became the leader of the free world at the end of a long and engaging election season.
I want you to know that I will be praying for you. Not praying against you or about you, but for you. That is both my pledge and my obligation as a follower of Christ. In the Bible, the apostle Paul writes, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (I Timothy 2:1-2, NIV).
And I will do so with a full and undivided heart.
I will be praying for you from my position as a father of four children and Papa to 12 grandchildren—that you will have the foresight to think through what your decisions will mean for them as future generations.
I will be praying for you as a citizen of the United States—that you will seek wisdom from God and humbly submit yourself to His leadership as you lead our nation through economic turbulence, domestic divides and cultural diversities.
I will be praying for you as a member of the global population—that you will work with other well-intentioned leaders from around the world as we face environmental challenges, wars and rumors of wars, and humanitarian crises.
And finally, I will be praying for you as a follower of Christ—that you will encourage faith in God to flourish and never allow deeply held spiritual convictions to become a matter of ridicule. Rather, I pray that you will grant everyone a respectful hearing even if they go against the political policy of your party.
It is being widely spoken that you, as the next President, will inherit more that needs immediate attention than any other President in recent memory. As a result, it has been a hard-fought and hotly contested election. So now that I know your name, I will support you in one way without question:
I will be praying for you.