Diagnosing the 2016 Election

“You are the theological professional. Your job is to diagnose the theological problem.”

My supervisor during my time as a hospital chaplain used to say that to me all the time. His point was that, just as medical symptoms should sometimes not be taken at face value, we should not take what people say about their struggles immediately for gospel truth. Sometimes there is a deeper problem.

For a long time now I have been wrestling with this election. Clearly I am not alone in this wrestling match and often I have tagged out and focused on other concerns; leaving the fight up to others. However, something still nags at me. “Diagnose the theological problem” keeps ringing in my ears.  I have taken positions on this election that range from apocalyptic condemnations on the entire election enterprise (woe to you politicians, hypocrites that you are) to calm and peaceful assurances that the kingdom of our God will stand forever; no matter who wins in November.

Along the way from Jeremiah-like pronouncements of judgment to Gospel-like assurances that the hairs on heads are numbered (and back again) I have realized something: nothing is working. Judgment, apocalypticism, grace… all have left me with a profound sense that something is lacking. None of these options have really produced what I want: hope and reconciliation for this season.

So I look deeper because that is a sign of nothing else other than that I have diagnosed the theological problem incorrectly.  That uncomfortable work has left me with only one conclusion:

What really troubles me about this election is what it has revealed about myself. 

 

What really has me searching high and low in the Word of God is the fact that this election has revealed my own complicity in so much sin. Sin of racism, injustice, hatred, greed, etc….

And, of course, in my all too human nature my desire is to partially absolve myself of sin. So I say to myself that I wont, under any circumstances vote for this candidate or the other or both. At least that will absolve me.

Perhaps what is driving partisanship and division in this country is not that we “live in different worlds” but that we live in the same world, see it absolutely clearly, and wish to absolve ourselves of the sins that have become all to apparent. 

So we say we will never vote for Trump and thereby absolve ourselves of the sins of racism that run so deep in our country

Or we say that we will never vote for Clinton and thereby absolve ourselves of the sins of greed and corruption that have been at the root of this country since its creation.

I say to myself “I just won’t vote for president” and thereby absolve myself of the sinful mess we find ourselves in.

This is not to say that I think both these choices are the same. I think there is a candidate who is clearly better than the other. However, choosing that better candidate will not bring forgiveness and will not get me any closer to what I really want: hope and reconciliation.

Hope is a strange thing in the bible. It appears in odd places and at odd times. Most frequently it appears when people have run out of ways to absolve themselves. So after the kingdom is destroyed, the temple lost, and the king in captivity then the word of God comes to Ezekiel and he begins to start talking about “you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people” (Ezekiel 37:13). After loosing all possible ways in which they could absolve themselves, then God begins to speak a word of hope.

 

This election hurts because, among many other reasons, it is laying waste to all our attempts to find ourselves innocent; and therein lies our hope. After the dust settles and we, like the people of Israel, say “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost” then we will hear that still small voice that says “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live.”

2 comments

  1. Thanks again, Pastor Dave. Your theology never ceases to amaze me and give me a special kind of peace. Are you hearing that still small voice? I’m trying, but still praying cause I am scared.

  2. I’m no longer a part of the Christian church, but I found this blog insightful and calming none-the-less. It approaches the same sentiment (regarding racism) that motivated me to read (for the first time) Martin Luther King Jr’s letter from the Birmingham jail. Thank you, Pastor Dave.

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