This political season invites us to consider a classic biblical paradox. The Sunday before our election, the congregation I serve (along with many other religious gatherings across the nation), prayed “God’s will be done.” Was that prayer answered?
Christians supporting Donald Trump will answer a resounding “Yes!” His come from behind victory lends credence to divine intervention. On the other hand, equally sincere Christians answer “No!” They ask: could God choose a leader who appears antithetical to the character of Jesus Christ?
Here is the classic paradox of divine sovereignty versus human free will ripped, not from the headlines, but from centuries of theological discussion. Is everything that happens God’s will, especially if we have earnestly prayed that it be so?
As uncomfortable as it is for some, honest Christians must acknowledge the possibility that God did choose Donald Trump to be the next President. The very definition of sovereignty means God is in control, whether we humans agree, or even understand. To the question “What was God thinking?” the Lord might aptly reply: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).
The apostle Paul advises us: “Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God” (Romans 13:1). This was written to Roman Christians during the reign of Nero, whose character knew no limits of depravity.
At other times, God chose unsavory rulers to accomplish divine purposes, such as the heathen King Cyrus of Persia, who defeated Babylon and ended Israel’s captivity. The Lord says of Cyrus, “He is my shepherd and he shall fulfill all my purpose” (Isaiah 44:28). As a evangelical supporting Trump reflects in the New York Times: “God has used unjust people to do his will.”
So, what prevents us from concluding the election of Donald Trump is indeed God’s choice for America?
The Bible prevents us. In tension with God’s sovereignty, Scripture makes equally clear that human beings are created with genuine freedom. First as a seminary student, then later as a theology professor with my own students, I wrestled with questions like, “Why did God give Adam and Eve a command not to eat the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, if God knew they would disobey and eat it?” Wouldn’t a truly sovereign God just eliminate the temptation and option of a wrong choice? No, God sovereignly allowed them genuine freedom.
Moreover, many who sincerely believe in God’s sovereignty step back from affirming it in all situations. For example, many would not describe the rise of Hitler, the cataclysmic suffering of WWII and the death of 8 million Jews as God’s will. God allows humans to experience the consequences of human freedom, and allows evil to exist alongside good in the world.
Thus, as uncomfortable as it might be for others, honest Christians must also acknowledge the possibility that God did not choose Donald Trump. Instead, God stepped back and allowed this election to be an exercise of human freedom, just as God did with Adam and Eve. It remains to be seen what consequences this choice may bring.
Back to the question: Did God elect Donald Trump? Yes/no…Maybe/maybe not. Does this wishy-washiness help anyone? Perhaps not politically. But spiritually, it helps a great deal. By withholding a definitive answer, such frustrating biblical paradoxes promote something we desperately need as we approach God today: humility.
Can any candidate dare to claim God’s endorsement? Does any party have “God’s agenda?” Would not the Creator of this amazingly vast and intricate universe have plans that transcend glib partisan slogans, of either party?
Every election season, we human beings subtly bend an Almighty God to our political agendas. Encountering this paradoxical and mysterious God who cannot be so easily pinned down may be the revelation we need.