Recently, I read to my kids the fantastic short story The Monkey’s Paw. (They were terrified; it was not a good choice for bedtime. Lesson learned.)
In The Monkey’s Paw, a magical – well – paw of a monkey shows up at a British family’s house. The Paw grants three wishes but it might not be the way you want it. When the family wishes for two hundred pounds to pay off their mortgage, their son dies in a factory accident and two hundred pounds is the payoff. When the mother wishes for the son to come back from the dead, up hops a zombified son.
You get the idea: be careful what you wish for…you just might get it.
In I Samuel 8, the people of Israel anger their prophet by bringing to him a request: we want to stop being led directly by God’s chosen judges and prophets. Instead, we want a human political philosophy that seems to work so well for our neighbors (in their case, monarchy).
Samuel is furious, but God obviously knew this was coming, and says basically—“Sure, go ahead and choose a king…but beware that you will get what you ask for.” They wish for a King; they get a King; the result is an angry depressant on the throne and hordes of armies with giants at the gates.
I heard someone the other day saying, with regard to our current election, “Vote for candidate X or God will judge our country.”
And I couldn’t help but think: we have gotten what we asked for.
We as a country have idolized American democracy. We have given lip service to God, but placed our trust in Supreme Court appointments and elected officials and the law as the appropriate method to enforce morality in the world. We have assigned to politics things which only God can provide—conviction, guidance, ethics, morality, wisdom, and compassion. And we have commoditized and packaged this democracy and sold it around the world (and forced it into the places that didn’t want it.)
Now I’m not hating on democracy—as Winston Churchill once said, it is the worst form of government except for all the others. I think democracy is by far the best human form of government to ensure that rights are upheld; and I think that a democratic state is the most likely to be able to provide long-term religious liberty.
But the greatest strength of democracy—rule of the people by the people—is also its greatest weakness. As the great philosopher Tommy Lee Jones said in Men In Black: “A person is smart…people are dumb.” Once a critical mass of people exist in a democracy who think democracy is the source of their good rather than God, they will (by virtue of being the citizen-rulers) be able to take actions to reinforce this everywhere.
And as a result, democracy is flawed—but we seem to have forgotten that. Over the past fifty years we have created a civil religion in which we idolize America and Democracy and act as though our Constitution was written on stone tablets and delivered to Moses on Sinai.
The result of this idolization has resulted in this: we Americans have made exactly the same mistake that the Israelites made. We have told God, “Please give us Your blessings, but when it comes to politics, stay away—Democracy has got this.”
And God has replied, as He did before: “Sure, go ahead…but be careful. You’ll get what you asked for.”
We asked for the right to choose our leaders. And we got this election.
Understand, folks (and this is just my opinion, but I think it’s valid): God won’t judge us if we choose the wrong candidate. God has already judged us, and it comes in the form of Clinton vs. Trump.
God has said to us—you are so in love with this idea of choosing everything in your life, including your leaders? Fine… then choose!
And so through primaries, we chose. And we are now facing the terrible reality of choosing as our leader either a hotheaded, prideful, highly immoral, failed businessman or a lying, warmongering, strongly pro-abortion, politico.
This is what we asked for, right?
There is silver lining in this cloud. CS Lewis once said that there are two kinds of people in the world—those who say to God “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “Fine, then have it your way.” If we are dead-set on having our freedom, even to our own destruction, God will give it to us.
And He has: Trump v. Clinton is our judgment. It is our choice. The parties didn’t do this to us. We did this to us.
But as I said: silver lining.
Millennials, who have grown up in an era of income inequality, reeling from the effects of decades of war, and seeing high-definition ultrasound pictures, are increasingly anti-war, anti-poverty, and anti-abortion. These are all great things for the future.
This election is forcing Christians to look at themselves and be really honest about where their hope lies: for Christian liberals weren’t generally hoping for Clinton, and Christian conservatives weren’t hoping for Trump. In both cases, they are being forced to admit that their party allegiances have not led to a Christlike country.
And at Liberty University—one of the fortresses of the Moral Majority/Religious Right movement—thousands of students are saying that what they are being taught in Scripture courses is not aligning to the political actions of many religious leaders.
This election is a judgment on us. But—God’s mercies are new each day. And these silver linings, I think, show us a path forward.
If we will recommit ourselves to trusting only in Him—not a party, or a system of government—but only in Him, then I think we will see the country grow more Christlike.
We are learning the same painful lesson that the Church had to learn during the Roman Empire, during the Byzantine Empire, during the Holy Roman Empire (which was neither holy, nor Roman, nor really an empire), during medieval Catholicism, and during post-Reformation Britain: namely, that every time the Church becomes too wrapped up in State, the Church ends up damaged and corrupted.
We are, painfully, being forced to accept the fact that Democracy will neither save us nor sanctify us nor protect us; only God can do so. We are, painfully, being forced to remember that our hope is not in a politician’s promises of what they will do, but a Promise already fulfilled by One in our past. We are, painfully, being forced to remember that our kingdom is not here—no matter whom we elect—but in heaven. We are, painfully, learning that ages-old lesson that no matter how great a man’s politics are, he cannot remove sinfulness through law but rather, sinfulness against the only Law which matters was already paid for once and for all time.
There is a silver lining—but only if we learn our lesson from this election: to destroy not democracy, but our Civil Religion, and return to the One True Religion. Fail to learn it, and we will all be right back here in four years.