Why “God is in Control” is Just the Starting Place

Rage.  Disillusionment. Tears. The casualties of this election are personal.  We can actually feel it today.  I feel it.  No other election has ever made me cry, pound my fist, or lose sleep.  Not in this way.  From the moment Trump descended on his escalator all the way to FBI email announcements, it was a campaign season unlike any other.  Then election night came and the results were agonizingly close.

I woke up in a haze on November 9. I desperately scanned social media for something that could put words to everything I was feeling.  And everywhere I looked there were calls for healing.  For my Christian friends, this followed a familiar theme: God is in control.  For a person of faith that is a natural place to start.  It is especially relevant after a political election.  It is supremely relevant after this election. 

It is vital after a win by Donald Trump. 

The problem is that “God is in control” works best as a starting place.  If it becomes our end point then we have a comforting platitude (important, indeed) but nothing more.  We’re not sure we’re supposed to feel this strongly about something so “worldly” so we feel slightly afraid that we’re this emotionally invested.  But trust in God has never precluded pain or passion.  So if it’s not a theological sedative, what is it?  What does it mean (or not mean) when a Christian says “God is in control"?  In America. Today.  

It means that we do some serious soul-searching.  One friend posted “Forgive us!” on Facebook. I’m not exactly sure what she meant by this plea.  But, as a Christian, it resonated as almost nothing else could.  Forgive us!  God Almighty is in control and we have things to confess.  In our desire to win or to vote for a certain issue or candidate we have sacrificed relationships, ideals, and basic decency.  Many Christians, in particular, have traded their intelligence, integrity, and witness for cultural power in so many ways.  For a long time, much of the world has seen our political engagement as shallow.  I wish I could say that this cycle proved them wrong.  This election exposed us more than ever.  Our escalating Christian political battle, brought on by the slow crumbling of the Religious Right, was on full display.  As was our blind adherence to party and ideology.  It was painful.  But, in a way, Evangelicals needed to start having this public disagreement in order to shatter our idolatrous allegiances. 

What does it mean (or not mean) when a Christian says “God is in control”?

Because if God is in control, this idolatry needs to be unmasked.  Will we be courageous enough to do it?  Political parties are helpful if they educate and mobilize.  Even ideologies are helpful if they provide definitions of terms, challenge our consistency, and provide balance in our systems.  But we have not walked these paths.  More often we’ve chosen partisanship.  If God is in control, we have freedom to be joyfully independent thinkers and reformers.  America doesn’t need more sycophants or cynics.  It needs thoughtful brave people who engage the work of justice. 

And part of that work right now is empathy.  If God is in control, then God is hurting with those who hurt.  Women, African Americans, the LGBTQ community, Muslims, and immigrants all have fears that are very real.  Donald Trump has spoken words that bully, demean, and dehumanize many of our neighbors.  If God is in control, then he will raise up activists and preachers and business people who will fight for the protection and freedom of marginalized groups.  People who will hold President Trump accountable to the basics of democracy and decency.  God might allow you to be the listening ear or a voice this week that says, “It may feel like you don’t matter.  But that is not the truth.  God is in control.  So you matter.  To me and to my God.”

If God is in control, then we will take our call to public justice more seriously, more passionately, and with more hope.  If God is in control, then we have every reason to keep working for good in the world.  We have every reason to pick ourselves up and keep going.  We have every reason to say to our neighbors “I don’t understand.  Forgive me.  Help me to understand.”   

God’s control is not a relinquishment of our great calling to witness to God’s love.  God’s control is not a reason to crawl in a hole and wait things out.  We all need the rest and hope that God’s sovereignty can bring right now.  But let’s not abdicate our responsibility to one another. 

“Government is authorized by God to promote what is good for human flourishing.”  God is still in control, but we also have a lot of work to do.  

-Dan Carter is a husband, father, neighbor, reader, runner, and Senior Pastor of Calvary on 8th St. located in Holland, MI.  www.calvaryreformedholland.org