Everywhere I go, people complain that they feel like they are drowning in the coverage of the election cycle and the cynicism it creates. How will we ever make it all of the way to November?
Let me do a little practical theology around this. Friend and editor of my second book, Tony Robinson, helpfully commented on this in a recent UCC Daily Devotional. Some of you saw it. Tony quotes Psalm 146.3-4, “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help. When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.”
Also, in that slender sliver of time after Israel’s wilderness wanderings and before Israel became a nation—as they were ruled by judges—the people craved a king for all of the wrong reasons. They wanted to be like the other countries. They wanted to project the unrealistic expectations of hero worship. God tried to dissuade them, but eventually caved in. They got Saul, who began fine, but ended as nutty as Rasputin. Then David followed, along with more hero worship. He seemed to fulfill their fantasy, but David’s pride naturally became outsized and was his undoing.
Have we forgotten the Psalmist’s warning not to invest so much hope and trust in politics of the public square? We all want a President we can trust to point us in a right and good direction. Ok, good enough. That is fair. But I constantly hear people bitterly moan and complain about the poor choices we have. Frankly, I have heard exactly that point in every election I’ve voted in since 1972. Democracy is all about compromise, not completely getting what we want, but only some of it. Candidates who are in some way compromised are always the case when I’ve voted.
Maybe the problem isn’t only the dearth of quality in the candidates. Maybe the problem is at least partly placing ultimate trust in earthly rulers like princes or presidents, chairmen of the board or chief executive officers. Maybe the problem is how we crave a new messiah, a miracle worker, a master of the universe who will “fix everything.” Maybe that is why we obsessively follow elections but then ignore the nuts and bolts of that period subsequent to their elections which is called “governance.” That’s not as sexy. We lose interest and go back to oblivious lives.
The Biblical rejoinder is ultimate trust only belongs to God. So stop looking to for a president, a pastor, a professor, or a parent who is some sort of god. If we get a competent mortal, showing a decent moral compass, then we’ve done pretty well and should be grateful. Essential to that moral compass is acknowledging our limitations and asking forgiveness whenever we’re wrong.
Pastor/writer John Ortberg realistically states that “leadership is the art of disappointing people at a rate they can stand.” I relate to that in my own pastoral leadership. For even the best leaders fall short of the godlike hopes we project on them. But maybe, if a leader can stir hidden strength and courage within followers and constituents, we can mobilize and deal with the challenges we face in the moment. That is surely my goal with the rude surprise of our roof.
My gentle suggestion: instead of seeking new messiahs how about embracing the one we have?