On the eve of Election Day, the words of Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper echo in my mind:
What characterizes our particular age is the belief in (self)will...This worship of the will has displaced God so completely that the idea of God as the fundamental Will of the universe is viewed as silly. And whenever we believe we've toppled God from his throne, disaster results. We're in bad shape, because without God the world appears to exhibit very little wisdom and far less love.
"Thus says the Lord!" declared the prophet in times of old. Calling out the idolatry, hypocrisy, and injustices of the day, the prophet's message was often met with indifference and hostility as it collided with the prevailing views of the nation. Though they were God's appointed mouthpieces, the prophets' messages were subverted by the competing messages making inroads into the hearts and minds of the people of Israel, bringing with them devastating consequences unless they returned to the Lord.
Which brings me back to Kuyper's words. Though written over one-hundred years ago, they still speak prophetically to us today. There is nothing new under the sun, and the struggles we face are no different than those faced by people throughout history. Though the packaging may have changed, the method of delivery evolved, the basic struggles are the same. Wherever God is displaced from his throne, someone or something else will take its place. It is not a matter of whether you will love, whether you will worship, but what you will love, what you will worship. That is the nature of idolatry, and, as Calvin so imaginatively illustrated, our hearts are oh so good at creating idols.
A GAME OF THRONES
What are the idols before us today? I would submit that they are as follows:
1. The Libertine Idol
Human autonomy and self-will in which everyone does what is right in his or her own eyes has
yielded the fruit of moral and ethical decay. Along with such decay is a suspicion (or rejection)
of authority, including government, which God ordained as a means of common grace--to
establish justice and maintain order. This has, in part, fueled the rise of Donald Trump, as many
of those captivated by the god of individualism (self-will) align themselves with his anger and
suspicion of the establishment.
2. The State Idol
In the absence of the true God, something else must serve as the de facto god of the secular
state, namely its government. We live in an age in which many have fallen prey to the notion
that our hope lies in the government and its ever increasing role in our lives. On the
progressive side, the answers to our deepest problems can be solved by government oversight,
increased education and egalitarianism. And on the conservative side, such answers come in
the upholding of tradition, and for those who identify as evangelicals, increased Christian
power in the political process.
3. The American Idol
No, not the television show (although it did captivate many, and prompted a cult-like devotion
via participation). Rather, the American idol is one that has become ingrained in the hearts and
minds of people on both sides of the aisle through our own national pledges, hymns, and
scriptures. This idol has made a god of America, or at least made it out to be the New
Jerusalem--a city on a hill especially blessed by God to be a blessing to the world. As a
result, this election has been made out to be one of cosmic proportions. If either candidate
wins, the sky, as Chicken Little cried, will fall (uh-oh) because our hopes are so intertwined with
the fate of our nation.
On the one hand, I feel compelled to say that this election is a reflection of what we've become as a nation. As Kuyper writes, "without God the world appears to exhibit very little wisdom and far less love." This cycle has been one centered on anger, hate, suspicion, and slander. The issues and each party's trajectory for human flourishing have been virtually non-existent, replaced by emails, pageant winners, racism, and fear-mongering. Perhaps we are reaping what we have sown, the chickens are coming home to roost, and it is high time for repentance.
Yet, on the other hand, I cannot help but have a sense of hope. Not hope in the American people, in either candidate, or the government, but rather, hope in the true God and his Kingdom. A hope that Christians will recognize the ways their hearts have been co-opted by these various idolatries and return to the Lord. A hope that throughout history, the church has flourished in tumultuous times--in times it is most at odds with the prevailing authorities--and seen tremendous growth. A hope in the possibilities for the Church to serve as an outpost of the already-not yet Kingdom of God in the world while simultaneously working at a local level to bring renewal and flourishing to communities by way of mercy, grace, and promoting justice and peace. And a hope that, even if our nation should tumble and fall (which I don't believe will happen in this election cycle), I belong body and soul, life and death, to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and, therefore, have infinitely more than I could ever imagine or deserve.
May the God of grace fill us all with wisdom and grace, discernment and hope, in the power of the Holy Spirit, as we set about the task of choosing leaders to guide this country and serve the common good. And may our Lord remind us of the surpassing glory of the Kingdom we belong to above and beyond any other as we work in service to Him wherever He has placed us. In the name of our mediator, Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.