I sit here, at 9:22 PM PST on Tuesday evening, and the news is telling me we all must get used to saying President Trump.
I’m trying, and failing, to wrap my mind around this. I do not know what it means to have somebody like him in the White House. I do not know what it says about the state of this country, about the disconnect and division. I do not know what it says about the levels of fear, of anger, of distrust, (of resignation?) felt by many Americans that he was able to tap into such things and use them to gain the Presidency.
Since July, I’ve grappled with the fact that either Clinton or Trump would be our next President, wondering what it meant for our future when both of them were terrible candidates, when neither of them met the minimum standards of character and morality I would consider necessary for one who would lead this country.
I’ve spent much of the past few months thinking about the idea of hope, about what it looks like, practically, for a follower of Jesus in a world that so often seems to be headed in the wrong direction.
We’re called to be people of hope. What does this mean in a complex and often-scary world? How do we live this out?
Through all of yesterday and into today, I’ve seen certain sentiments from those who voted for Trump and those who did not, from those who are excited about this particular outcome and those who are not.
Our citizenship is in heaven.
Jesus is our King.
Such statements are meant as reminder, as comfort, when things seem bleak here on earth. “Do not concern yourselves about what happens here and now,” they seem to say, “for your real home is in heaven. Some day, all will be right.”
And, while I do look forward to the day when all things will be made new, while I know good outcomes are not guaranteed until such day arrives, while my ultimate and final hope is in the resurrection, I also know this: the One to whom every knee will bow is also the One who said He is working with His Father, and invited us to join in that work. The One who will one day return to make all things new is also the One who taught us how to live in the here and now. The One who promised to wipe every tear from our eyes is also the One who said the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.
The Kingdom of heaven is at hand. We are to work to usher it in, and so we should not – we must not – ignore the means given us to affect change in our world. We should not – we must not – shrug our shoulders, or turn our backs, or walk away. We are citizens of heaven, yes, but we are citizens of earth, too, and our actions and our words should reflect our dual citizenship, our love for and care of both of our homes. We can and should grieve for the sin and the hurt and the division we see in our world, and we should strive to make things better.
And yet, every government is comprised of broken, hurting, fallible human beings. Our leaders fall short (and, oh my, is that ever-so-true this year, of all years). Our hope lies not in them, but in a God who redeems and restores, in a God who loves, in a God who is making all things new.
How do we hold this tension? How do walk this tightrope between earth and heaven, between the working and the waiting, between this present moment and the not yet? How do we strive to help usher in heaven on earth while keeping our hope firmly where it belongs?
“God is in control,” we say, as though this covers all ills, as though this is some panacea for the ugly outcomes we find around us, as though this excuses and explains the many individual decisions and events that led to a certain result. I’ve heard it from so many this season, often said with a bit of a shrug, as though the speaker is saying, “Well, I wouldn’t have chosen this, and I certainly don’t understand it, but God must have a plan.”
He might. But too much evil happens in this world for me to believe that all human action, all human history is somehow orchestrated and controlled by God, as though He’s a puppet master, moving us all according to some mysterious plan. Too much of the Old Testament shows Him weeping, pleading with His people to come back to Him, begging them to turn from their own destruction and find life in Him again. Too many times in the New Testament, Jesus mourns for those who will not listen, who will not hear. Too many verses speak of His desire that none should perish, of the fact that He is the author of life and light, not evil and death.
And so, I don’t derive comfort from the idea that God is in control in the way that some seem to do, for, while the final outcome is assured, earthly events are all too often dictated by human free will. I do not believe it is good for America that we elected such a man as Trump. Worse – much, much worse – I do not believe it is good for the Church, for the name of Christ, that he enjoyed broad evangelical support. While God can certainly use Trump, I do not believe He desired this outcome.
Where, then, do I find hope, at the end of this contentious election season when no outcome seems good, when I look into the faces of my daughters and wonder what kind of world we’re building for them? Where is the Kingdom being built? Where is God in control?
Jesus tells us His Father is working.
He’s working, He’s working, He’s working, I tell myself, and this, this is it. This is where the hope springs.
This past Monday marked the anniversary of an event that had a profound affect on many whom I love. Ten years ago, an out-of-the-blue and terrifying medical emergency struck my mother-in-law, upending her world and reminding us all how very fragile and precious life is. As she reflected on that time, she repeated the same phrase again and again when speaking of those who were there to help her:
They let God use them she said.
They let God use them.
This is the Kingdom being built, this is the control of God: in the hearts and lives of those who follow Him. In the quiet, everyday actions of people who act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with God, who allow Him to work in their hearts and minds.
True, living, practical hope – a hope that reflects our dual citizenship – is not a belief that Donald Trump will somehow make America great again (whatever that may mean). It is not found in political movements or government institutions. It is not placed in Supreme Courts or immigration policy or plans to cut the national debt, much as those things may affect our lives.
True hope is none of those things.
But neither is it solely an eternal perspective. It is firmly grounded in the resurrection, yes, and in the unfailing love of God, but it expresses itself here, in this world, in the ways we live and move and have our being. It is the Kingdom being built, one moment, one heart, one life at a time.
It’s the mom in my BSF class whose family takes in foster babies, babies born to meth-addicted mothers, allowing the love of God to flow through her to them. I gave her an infant car seat three years ago; she told me recently she’s used it for five different little boys and girls.
It’s the family that visits the nursing home with their violins and their tambourines and their balloons, laughing and singing and dancing, bringing their joy inspired by hope into others’ loneliness.
It’s friends and family and strangers gathered around the table, breaking bread together. It’s the man who voted for Trump and the woman voted for Hillary and the young adult who voted third-party all serving their neighbors, working in their communities to try to bring about peace on earth. It’s hearing each others’ stories and seeing a way forward, a way to love and to live and to hope together because we serve a God who redeems.
It’s allowing the Spirit of God to move in us and through us, allowing Him to transform us, to make us more like Him. It’s partnering with Him to do His work on earth.
This, this is hope in action: a desperate clinging to the idea that our best days are not behind us, that good is yet to come, that Kingdom work is being done here, now, today. That even when things are dark and the world has lost its mind, goodness and love exist, that though evil permeates, always light pushes back.