(Originally published on I Still Hate Pickles on September 26, 2012. )
Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man,
My birthday is November 7th, so every so often, I get a president for my birthday. Or, at least, a day off in honor of voting and elections. Lucky me! If you hadn’t noticed, I don’t mention politics on this blog. There are a few reasons for this, not limited to the fact that I think it can be ridiculously alienating, I often find myself confused or generally infuriated, and I wish we had more than a two-party system.
During election time, especially presidential election time, I am mentally sticking my fingers in my ears and saying, “La la la la,” in an attempt to block out the arguing, the name-calling, and the pithy Facebook statuses. It helps to not watch television. Not that I don’t care or see the governing of our country as important, but I feel like in the effort to win an election, the important things get boiled down to right and left, black and white. There is no room for diversity, and God help you if you plan to vote differently than a cousin, church member, or Facebook friend.
Recently I read Psalm 146, which really brought some clarity and hope to this election season for me. I came away from the Psalm realizing that one of the problems with anything political is that we attach so much significance to a candidate or party that he or she can’t possibly stand up under the weight of our expectations. We place so much trust and importance to a singular person that we turn them into gods. Human gods? They always fail us.
According to Psalm 146, we need to refocus our gaze.
The Psalm bookends with praise for God, but verses 4 and 5 help give context to the praise: “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.” Our elected officials, despite their semblance of power, their seats of importance and their influential decision-making, are people like you and me. What I see in the bitter battle of words online is that we have lost this grounding knowledge. Instead, so many of us look to the new leader or the incumbent leader or even the independent party leader to be the one to Change Everything. To Fix the Problems. To Solve Our Crisis as a Nation.
And if the other guy wins? Despair! Destruction! The world will end as we know it! Our country in the toilet!
Let’s bring it back to Psalm 146. If we are not to attach all our hopes to princes or presidents, then what hope do we have? “Blessed is the man whose help is the God of Jacob,” it says, “whose hope is in the Lord our God.” (v5) Sounds lovely, but what are God’s qualifications, exactly? The Psalm gives us those as well.
-made heaven and earth
-keeps faith forever
-executes justice for the oppressed
-gives food to the hungry
-sets prisoners free
-opens the eyes of the blind
-lifts up the bowed down
-loves the righteous
-watches over sojourners
-upholds the fatherless and the widow
-brings the wicked to ruin
Oh, yeah, and this last one: REIGNS FOREVER.
On an individual level, the Bible tells us to trust God for salvation. That means realizing we can’t ever do enough to earn our way to heaven–we have a holy God who doesn’t grade on a curve. It means we trust in Jesus’ perfect righteousness that he offers and his death on the cross in your place to pay for all the wrongs in your life. That’s the personal level of trusting Him. This Psalm, however, focuses on trusting Him on a universal level–trusting that He cares about and rules this world.
Now, I know what a lot of you are thinking, because I am thinking it too. If God really does feed the hungry, why are so many starving? If he watches the fatherless, why so many destitute orphans? If he executes justice, how do we have so many people caught up in the snares of human trafficking? Judging God like a political candidate on His track record, maybe on the surface it doesn’t seem He’s fared so well either.
“In this world, you will have much trouble,” Jesus said (John 16:33). Indeed! The world seems full of nothing but trouble. Where is this God who promises to care for all things and says he cares about justice? We wouldn’t need a president to fix these things if God were doing His job, we may think.
This really goes back to the problem of evil in the world, which is too enormous for this tiny (long) blog post. Suffice to say that we are in a broken world, and according to the Bible it will be broken until the fulfillment of time–at which point Jesus will return, justice will be served, God will make a new heaven and new earth, and he will wipe the tears from our eyes.
For the here and now, however, we see with small eyes. We see wars and starvation and poverty and suffering at the hands of wicked people. We see injustice and economic crisis. Our small eyes want a solution, so our small eyes look to a man or woman that we hope can bring an end to these things. In our hearts, we know that one president cannot fix every problem. Yet we speak as though the wrong choice means death and disaster. Only idiots would vote for that other guy. We disagree vehemently about the right solutions or what the problems are. We see with small eyes, and yet it comes from the desire we have to hope for something better.
God does not pledge to end all of the world’s problems at this very moment. He does promise to bring them to an end, but the when we do not know. So why trust in Him?
Because He does care and He is working all around us. Our small eyes can miss the hugeness of hope in His promises because our gaze is too low. The God who made heaven and earth offers this promise to us: he cares for us. Injustice offends him; wickedness enrages him. Jesus Himself suffered alongside us; He wept at loss and pain in our world. Now we see in a mirror, dimly, but one day we shall know in full. (1 Corinthians 13:12)
God is working through various organizations right now in our world and we can join in and work alongside Him. He cares for the poor and AIDs-stricken through Compassion International. He provides clean water through Blood Water Mission. He rescues those caught in slavery, trafficking or oppression through the International Justice Mission. He is also working through local churches and individuals. If you feel that an issue is important enough to shout about online, get involved somewhere, whether it’s a donation of time, goods, or money.
Trusting God means widening our gaze, but what does it look like to NOT trust in princes or presidents? I think it would look like praying for the candidates–yours AND the other guy. Praying for the winner–whether it’s who you wanted to see in office or not. It means you arm yourself with knowledge before this election. Find the issues that you care about and who best lines up with those. But keep perspective and know that there is a bigger picture. Don’t act as though a single man from a particular party could solve all the world’s problems, or shout at your neighbor or even a stranger on the internet that they are asinine for believing otherwise.
To see God’s work in the broken pieces of this world requires faith–being sure of what we hope for, certain of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1) There is A ruler of this world already. We don’t see His face the way we do a candidate’s on a poster. We don’t hear His speeches ringing forth from a podium somewhere. His promises, His qualifications, His works, His character are clearly outlined in the Bible again and again. When we stop looking with small eyes, we may see these greater things. Trust HIM.
Political affiliations aside, I encourage you to be sure that in the grand scheme of the world, you are aligned with the One who rules it. And whatever you do, don’t attach all your hopes to princes and presidents.