Some time ago, Ben Myers, a systematics professor at United Theological College in Sydney, Australia, summarized the Bible, book by book, using Twitter. He did an admirable job of capturing the themes of First and Second Kings:
1 Kings: So, you really want a monarchy huh? Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
2 Kings: I told you so.
Read together, the message of those two books could be understood as an endorsement of theocracy (i.e., the direct rule of God). But they are much better read – as they have been by most Jews and Christians – as a salutary warning against relying on human rulers for things that they can’t provide.
The climate of the current campaign for President of the United States would suggest that we have forgotten that lesson.
The rhetoric that the candidates use and the promises that they make are outsized and overreaching. The scope of the promises that voters are exacting from the candidates defy reason, and the heat of the exchanges between voters is marked by the kind of vitriol that would suggest we stand on the precipice of domestic and international apocalypse.
It can’t be denied that we face enormous challenges, nor can it be denied that the choice of the next President will shape the immediate future to some degree. But the nature of this year’s campaign suggests that we also have a spiritual problem.
We have slipped, unthinkingly, into the notion that the choice of a President can vanquish poverty and racism, heal the oceans, and protect us from all harm.
To paraphrase First and Second Kings:
So, you think the next President will usher in a new heaven and a new earth? Don’t be so sure.
As we measure what the candidates promise and as we debate the issues, it is worth remembering certain spiritual truths:
One: This world will never be what it should be.
We can and should work to improve it. We can and should nurture structures that make for growing well-being. But the perfection of human society is beyond us, all of us, including our leaders.
Two: You and I have responsibilities and those responsibilities cannot be discharged by electing “the right person” to do our work for us.
The President of the United States is not our pater or mater familias, and we are not his or her children. The President is a peer, chosen for a brief interval, to provide a sharply circumscribed set of responsibilities. He or she cannot absolve us of the obligation to shoulder own share of work in this world, whether it is caring for our own families or for our neighbors.
Three: You and I will be hurt. We will struggle and we will experience losses.
We do not live in a world that is insulated from loss. To expect to be insulated from that loss by our leaders is infantilizing and a distraction from the soul work that all of us need to do. Biblical shalom, or peace, is not the absence of conflict, it is about a life centered in God, whatever the circumstances might be.
Four: As such, life requires courage, endurance, and faithfulness from all of us.
Whatever we decide about the role and scope of government, you and I will need to volunteer our own, unprompted contribution to the well being of the world. We share in the behavior that contributes to this world’s pain. We share in the behavior that makes for life and liberation.
Five: In the end, we are dependent upon the goodness of God.
Our horizons should not be fixed by the length of our own lives, by the lives of our children, or the lives of our grandchildren. The life that is marked by hope and boundless charity is a life that is dedicated to the purposes of God. The freedom to give ourselves to that work, even when our efforts are frustrated or incomplete, arises out of the conviction that we are not engaged in endeavors of our own making. They are the outworking of God’s love for the world.
So, let’s stop, listen, deliberate.
But remember, the choice we make next November will not deliver us from all harm and meet all of our needs. And the next inauguration will not usher in heaven on earth:
Because the world is broken…
Because there is a God and you are not…
Because our Presidents are not our parents, and we are not their infant children…
Because you were brought into this world to discover what might be a faithful and courageous response to the will of God…
And on the first day after the votes are collected and the celebrations begin, the spiritual challenge will remain the same.
Photo by vitasamb2001, used with permission from freedigitalphotos.net