One Week After The Election …

And We’re Still O.k.

Post-Obama Election Reflections on God’s Goodness to His People



 Reed DePace, Pastor, 1st Presbyterian Church of Montgomery, AL

 

[I've been surprised at how many Christians were troubled by Barack Obama's election. This is an abbreviated version of a longer article I wrote for our congregation addressing this topic. So as not to take up too much of Lane's space I'm posting here the main arguments, leaving the particular applications out. You can find the full article here.]



 

           Monday, November 3, 2008; my email inbox was filled with dire warnings of the results if Senator Barack Obama was elected President. An imminent collapse into Marxism, open persecution of those who disagree with Senator Obama, riots even if he won; all these scenarios (and more) were sure to follow Senator Obama’s election to the Presidency of the most powerful nation in history.

           So here I sit one week after the election, and … well I’m still here doing what I was doing before the election of President-elect Obama. No one has taken away any of my freedoms, or the freedoms of anyone I know. The economy is still a mess, and yet we haven’t descended into a Marxist nightmare, nor are masses of Americans starving. There were no riots, no armed insurrections, and no rebellion of military units, none of the kinds of responses that so often mark contentious elections in other nations.

          Why? Why is it that not only are things the same immediately after President-elect Obama’s election as before it, as well why does it look like the election of Mr. Obama is not going to prove to be the demise of the United States, and the Church in it, that so many Christians are afraid it will be?

           I suggest that we need to consider the election of President-elect Obama through the corrective lens of the doctrine of God’s Providence[*]:

 

God[†] —the great Creator of all things— upholds1, directs, disposes, and governs all creatures, actions, and things2, from the greatest even to the least3.

 

He exercises this most wise and holy providence4, according to His infallible foreknowledge5, and the free and unchangeable counsel of His own will6, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy7.

 

          To reference just one of the biblical passages noted here, consider a rather startling one, one that reflects on circumstances even worse than the underlying fears many of us struggle with in Mr. Obama’s election: [Peter, in his sermon on Pentecost, addressing the gathering Jews, said]

 

this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. ~ Acts 2:23

 

          Note what God says: men made their choice to crucify Christ, AND it was only because God sovereignly ordained beforehand that they would so choose that they did so! This is Providence at its most startling. God plans for His own Son’s death and then so directs, disposes, and governs all things that men freely fulfill His will.

          If Providence is so with the most significant event in the history of mankind, what must we conclude about the election of Mr. Obama? Must we not acknowledge that God heard the prayers of all His people, and to those of us who prayed Mr. Obama would not be our new president, God said, “no.” God, who loves his children said no. Hmmm …

          Now, I guess one could wander off at this point, like the child who goes off to sulk and wonder in increasing fear whether or not his father really does love him. But I’d prefer to act like the child who trusts his father enough to pester him with a few, “why Father, why?” If with me, you choose the latter, you will soon discover another startling truth about God’s Providence[‡]:

 

As, in general, the providence of God reaches to all creatures; so in a very special way, it cares for His Church and disposes all things for its good8.

 

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. ~ Romans 8:28

 

          Note this: God’s Providence does not rule over everything aimlessly. Even more, God’s Providence does not rule over some things for the sake of His children. God’s Providence rules over all things – everything happens the way it does because God intends to use everything that happens to bless His children. This particularly applies to the election of Mr. Obama:

 

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities [including President-elect Obama]. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. … for he [President-elect Obama] is God’s servant for your good. … ~ Romans 13:1-4

 

          Note the italicized section. Do you believe God has placed Mr. Obama in authority over you, for your good? This is God’s promise to His children. And of course, when we think about it, we are not so surprised. …

          Let’s conclude here by remembering that God’s children are called to walk by faith, not by sight (2Co 5:7).

          From sight, from the way things ordinarily work in this world of ours, we may have some justification in expecting that Mr. Obama’s election will produce harm. Yet remember that by sight we are seeing things the way they are in a world caught in the grip of a curse relentlessly bent on the world’s destruction!

          This may be the only way the unbeliever can perceive things, but not so the children of God. Scripture makes it explicitly clear, there can be no debate, that the election of Mr. Obama is a blessing from the hands of a heavenly Father Who only knows how to give His children even more than they can think to ask (Eph 3:20).

          Do you believe this? In spite of any struggles you may have had in contemplating Mr. Obama’s election, do you believe God loves you in Christ? When all the debates and disagreements are over, do you believe God cannot lie?  

          If so, I urge you, take your concerns, your doubts, and your fears, and take them to your Father and lay them before Him. Pray for your unbelief. Pray God will change your frustrations with Mr. Obama’s election into rejoicing. Pray for President-elect Obama, his conversion and his success in ruling in righteousness.

          In Mr. Obama’s election, the children of God have a great opportunity laid before them. There are no reasons to be discouraged, no call for fear. Our Father is sovereign, He does love us, and He has specifically promised that President-elect Obama is His blessing for us. Please, let us not be like children who doubt their father’s love. Instead, let us with joy pursue God’s promise to bless us in President-elect Obama.

 



 [*] Westminster Confession of Faith, Modern English Study Version, Great Commission Publications, 1993; chapter , paragraph 1.

[†] Scripture references for superscripted numbers: 1-Neh 9:6; Ps 145:14-16, Heb 1:3. 2-Dan 4:34-35; Ps 135:6; Ac 2:23; 17:25-28; Job 38:1-41:34. 3-Mt 10:29-31; see 6:26-32. 4-Pr 15:3; 2Ch 16:9. Ps 104:24; 145:17. 5-Ac 15:18; Isa 42:9; Ezk 11:5. 6-Eph 1:11; Ps 33:10-11. 7-Isa 63:14; Eph 3:10; Rom 9:17; Gn 45:7; Ps 145:7.

[‡] WCF, chapter 5, paragraph 7.

 

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13 Comments

  1. November 13, 2008 at 7:03 pm

    I wonder what we should make of Habakkuk, then? Just because something happens in the providence of God and for our ultimate good doesn’t mean it won’t get ugly in the short run or that there is no room for an appropriate sense of fear in the short run. Habakkuk recognizes God’s purpose and still says he fears it. He closes with a recognition that things are going to get very bad before they get better. He trembles at the idea, but trusts God. I’m not a Chicken Little myself. But I wonder if claiming that this is no reason “to be discouraged, no call for fear” is perhaps a bit unbalanced. I wonder if that’s a bit like encouraging Judah to rejoice that Nebuchadnezzar is coming. Is God using it for the good of his people? Certainly. For his glory ultimately? Of course. But does that mean Judah is only acting faithfully if they smilingly welcome the Chaldeans at their gates? Is Obama a blessing and only a blessing? Must we only take encouragement from his election? I would like to respectfully argue that the answer is no.

    I think you have presented a false dilemma: We cannot be discouraged or express any sort of fear, because to do so is to doubt God’s sovereign goodness to his people. I propose that one can be discouraged, fear, and even mourn, without necessarily doubting God’s goodness to his people and his faithfulness to meet their every need. Habakkuk’s response seems much more balanced: O LORD, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O LORD, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath, remember mercy. (3:2

    Habakkuk hears God and believes God, but trembles nonetheless. “I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us.” (3:16)

    Furthermore, Christ in the garden seems to struggle (“my heart is very sorrowful” Mark 14:34). He does not doubt the Father and could never be accused of faithlessness, and yet I don’t think we would classify his mood as one of rejoicing. This would seem especially clear if we read Habakkuk with Christ and his work in mind.

    So while the emails you cite in your opening may be guilty of betraying their authors’ faithlessness, I am concerned that your response may have gone to the opposite extreme. I submit this humbly and as a grateful reader.

  2. Rich Hamlin said,

    November 13, 2008 at 8:24 pm

    Not to disagree with anything in your article, but the fact that radical Marxism hasn’t begun says nothing about what Obama is doing/will do, seeing is he has yet to take office. Was Hitler God’s servant for the good of German believers?

  3. Jonathan T said,

    November 14, 2008 at 12:50 am

    Thanks for one of the very few “positive” comments on the election of Mr. Obama. I won’t take the space to fill it here, but you and your readers may like to read the article “Do Christians Believe in a Sovereign God or Not?” at http://www.thechristianobserver.com

    Hallelujah! Our God reigns!

  4. Reed Here said,

    November 14, 2008 at 2:39 am

    Ref. 1:

    Sounds like you’re concerned that Christians be able to give voice to their fears. I couldn’t agree more.

    I think you may a bit be mis-reading, and hear me saying there is no cause for fear. In the concluding points I do urge Christians to take their fears to God. Neverthless, it may be that I could be more specific, so:

    I completely understand the “fear” of anticipation of what Mr. Obama may do once in office. I do note my concerns over what appears to be a decidedly Socialist bent to his economic policies, and make no bones about my disagreement with such policies. I “fear” (relatively speaking) what may be the result in the economy if he does pursue such policies. I believe that in that event there will be greater economic suffering.

    I have no stoic or other-worldly responses for people facing such pain. Its real and its scary. My advice is still the same – there is hope in Providence, and only in Providence, because of Christ. Rather than suggest a Christian “suck it up”, I urge such to run to their heavenly Father, where he will comfort them with these very truths (and not just in empty platitudes – all you or I are good for ;-) ).

    I do note even further my concern for Mr. Obama’s opposition to biblical values in the areas of abortion and homosexual behavior. These call for the most sustained of prayers expressing our fears about the potenital results.

    I am under no misconceptions that Mr. Obama’s rule could be one in which American Christians experience more persecution than heretofore. It appears unlikely, but anything is possible.

    Still, even in such extreme circumstances, I suggest the response I’m proposinng is what God would have us do. I’m not denying the reality of a Christian’s fear. I’m suggesting that such fear can only be adequately addressed by God, and urging that one take that fear to Him.

    Rather than polly-annish denials of such fear, I’m seeking to point a Christian to the only source of real relief from such fears, God’s promises in Christ. Hope this clarifies.

  5. November 14, 2008 at 9:45 am

    Thanks for the clarification, Reed.

  6. Durell Flood said,

    November 14, 2008 at 11:13 am

    If one believes that God worked Christ’s death and resurrection to His people’s benefit, a waiting-to-burst-on-the-scene oppressive ruler to His people is comparitively small potatoes. He doesn’t get any authority except that which was given him by God.

  7. Reed Here said,

    November 14, 2008 at 12:18 pm

    Durell: amen.

  8. Steven Carr said,

    November 14, 2008 at 2:53 pm

    Reed, I argued for the same thing here: http://beholdingthebeauty.blogspot.com/2008/11/on-eve-of-end-of-world-as-we-know-it-i.html

    At the same time, though, we need to be a little more circumspect. While I agree that we need to take our fear to God, we should not be so quick to dismiss those who warn against tyrranical governments. As a citizen of the kingdom of heaven, I do not fear what man can do. But as a citizen of the United States, I am going to do everything that is within my rights as a citizen to resist tyrrany. Don’t get me wrong; I am not supporting revolution. What I am referring to here is the rights I have within the court system. I don’t pretend to know what is going to happen the next four years, but I do know that having Obama elected as president is a step in the wrong direction. He is an unabashed Marxist, and his policies if they are implemented have the possibility of turning this country away from what was intended in the constitution.
    My only point in saying all this is that in turning people away from fear, we shouldn’t make them passive. I’m not accusing you of doing this, but your article does seem to suggest that our only recourse as Christians is to take a laissez-faire approach. If that is what you are not suggesting then you need to balance your article.

  9. November 15, 2008 at 11:53 am

    [...] One Week After The Election … [...]

  10. November 16, 2008 at 10:11 pm

    Reed,

    I suspect that we ultimately agree more than we disagree. As others have said, Obama hasn’t taken office then. Until then, we can only go by his promises and voting record. These don’t bode well for the unborn, Biblical marriage, and a number of political freedoms for which our founding fathers fought and died. This election isn’t the end of anything, but the beginning of a new struggle.

    I wrote a post on my blog after the election entitled “Our hope and duty under radical socialism“. Near the end I suggest:

    So, let us place our hope in the Lord and act like we really believe that. Let’s continue to work for justice for all, especially the innocent children not yet born. Let us continue to fight for our civil rights under the 2nd Amendment. Let us continue to try to break the cycle of slavery in welfare dependency and the oppression of wealth redistribution. But at the same time, let us never forget to live out the truth of God’s absolute sovereignty:

    Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!

    With our feet firmly in both kingdoms, we dare not neglect either.

  11. Reed Here said,

    November 17, 2008 at 11:06 am

    Agreed. None of my comments are to be understood from the either/or perspective of the old way of life under the covenant of works.

    In the new way of life under the covenant of grace, I am called by a loving father to put all my hopes and trust in his son. And when I do that I find the joyful confidence to obey him and express myself concerning the issues we face under Mr. Obama’s presidency. I find myself being able to operate in the world without having to be of the world – etc., etc., etc..

    I really do respect my theonomic brothers for the intensity they bring to their sincerity. But I do worry with what appears to be a tendency to understand us in terms of the old either/or thinking. Of course, I suspect some may challenge me the same way ;-)

    But, yes, we do agree here. The issues we face, given what Mr. Obama has consistently said, are very serious under the sun.

    Just from the economic perspective alone, for the life of me I cannot understand (apart from the wisdom of Scripture) how our civil leaders are so confused on what it will take to turn this economy around. We need to cut goverment spending, and radically. We need to cut taxes, and radically. This will result in a growing economy, one in which more and more are able to make it on their own, and one in which the remaining struggling ones will find God still has enough children who will be faithful in helping them meet their needs.

    If I were stuck in the old way of thinking I would be somewhat scared, as my family lives very modestly. Yet I am so grateful for the new way of thinking – and living! For in Christ, I find no empty platitudes, but real, honest to goodness, actually accomplished redemption that is sufficient, and will prove to be sufficient, for anything that comes my way.

    So I have the joy of talking seriously about things in the end that are not going to hurt me or mine. I’m kind of like a kid who gets to play-act like my father, but at the end of the day daddy calls me to supper and I know it was just playing (Phil. 3:10-14).

  12. Barry Waugh said,

    November 17, 2008 at 1:54 pm

    I have been amazed at the worry about the presidential election by so many Reformed folk who believe that the sovereignty of God is essential to a proper understanding of Scripture and history. Have we forgotten that “all the nations of the earth are as a drop of the bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance” (Is 40:15)? How often through presidential history have the occupants of the Oval Office not turned out to be what they were thought to be in terms of their abilities and views? How often have they not been able to accomplish their plans? Do you remember the Clinton administration’s push for a national health care plan and how concerned many were about the move toward socialism? When one is thrust into such a massive and grave responsibility as caring for hundreds of millions of people, I would think there would be a readjustment of thinking, to some degree. Our nation is governed by checks and balances (a very Presbyterian system at that)–do we forget about that too! The Lord God raises great powers and he brings their fall, too, and I think our real problem is that He does not do things the way that we would like them done. I remember when I was growing up in high school thinking that the Soviet empire would run us all over and the Iron Curtain would never be penetrated, but I was wrong about that and so were many others. Do we remember the Exodus and the Lord’s work to let His people go? Certainly, that was a redemptive-historical event, but it still displays God’s unique providence for his people as He worked Pharoah like clay. I have heard some people say of Arminians that they believe God is sovereign in everything but salvation; maybe it should be said that Calvinists sometimes behave like God is sovereign in salvation but not in everything else. We need to take confidence in the Lord and recognize his rule and sovereign hand in all, and we also need to remember that we are creatures made in his image and molded as the potter molds the clay.

  13. E.C. Hock said,

    November 17, 2008 at 5:14 pm

    Barry,

    Yes, I had to calm a few fears just this past Friday night at a church gathering.
    We Reformed folk above all should understand that (1) God’s gospel is unstoppable, and (2) God is a bridge-builder throughout the world. Given that this reality exists under His sovereign power, we ought not to remain stunned like a deer in the headlights. What did the angels say to the disciples when Jesus was lifted up: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky?” (Acts 1:10). Given the election results, we need not be starring into the sky, or more like it, stricken by the loss of some political power fantasy (GOP sweep) gone wrong. The fact is, for the church in 2009-2012, there is work to be done on earth, as Jesus said, we are witnesses for Him to the ends of the earth.

    Good things can and will arise for knowing and feeling what it is like for the confessional to be in the minority. Sometimes, we tremble over these cultural shifts because our sense of mission is too limited to (our) culture, not to what the gospel is doing in the world. Thus we get anxious over an apparent loss of socio-political control, or of ease that comes with being a majority, or thinking that as long as we are cultural winners we get to write the history. But all that is changing and the church has every reason still to be confident, though we will likely need to change our habits and hope over false activism.


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