Election Day And The Providence Of God

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
(Romans 13:1-7 ESV)

When it comes to God’s guiding providence in political affairs, it’s easy to see the “big stuff.”  When Emperor Constantine rose to power, ending the official persecution of Christianity in the Roman Empire, God’s providence seems obvious to us from 1,700 years out.  When Frederick III became Elector of Saxony just in time to hide Martin Luther from the Roman Catholic church, allowing him to translate the Bible into German, God’s providence is again obvious to us today.  Even an infamous figure like King Henry VIII, by no means a paragon of godliness, was instrumental in bringing the Protestant Reformation to England.  The rest, as the fellow said, is history.

It is far more difficult to discern the hand of God in the smaller and more recent events of human history.  What exactly was God thinking when Grover Cleveland won the Presidency in 1884, lost it in 1888, and won it again in 1892?  Still, our inability to immediately comprehend the secret councils of God is no reason to assume, as some even within the evangelical community have, that God is simply not at work in the world when things don’t go our way.

I doubt anyone has forgotten, but when Paul penned the words of Romans 13 the Roman Empire was ruled by Nero, a man who is infamous for burning Christians alive in his garden as a source of light.  This is the context in which Paul tells the Roman Christians that all earthly authorities have been instituted by God and must be obeyed and honored.

Barack Obama is no Nero.  He is a decent person, a good father and a loving husband.  He may be a bad President, but he’s not a tyrant or a persecutor of Christians.  For that reason alone, the church has an obligation to step back and be thankful, praising God for the continued (if sometimes slow and frustrating) increase of His Kingdom to the ends of the earth.

On the other hand, we cannot make the mistake of assuming that because God has placed a certain person in a certain position of earthly power that He approves of that person.  God used the wicked Assyrian Empire to judge the nation of Israel, but that does not mean that God sanctioned all the wickedness of the Assyrians.  The mere admission that Barack Obama’s second term as President of the United States was ordained by God does not mean that God is now pro-choice.  This would be equally true if Mitt Romney was our new President.  God’s secret councils are, well, secret.  We can only guess at the “why?” behind every event of history, and the closer that event happens to be to us, the more likely our guess is to be wrong.

God’s revealed council is quite clear, however, and it is found in His Word.  For Historic, evangelical Christians, nothing changed yesterday.  Our President is still more openly opposed to religious liberty, pro-life values, and traditional marriage than any President in America’s history.  We must remain the loyal opposition.  But in our opposition, however strong it may need to be over the next four years, we must remember that we are still loyal.

Ultimately, what Paul has to teach us in Romans 13 is that Christianity is fundamentally a religion of hope.  No matter what happens in history, whether we find ourselves submitting to a Nero, a Constantine, or someone in between, we know with confidence that God’s providential plan is working beneath it all, guiding history towards His gloriously ordained ending.  As Paul put it, just a few chapters earlier in his letter to the Roman Christians:

    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 ESV)

Published by

David Nilsen

David graduated from Biola University in 2008, with a B.A. in Philosophy. He studied Historical Theology for three years at Westminster Seminary in California (his essays on Theology, Church History and Eastern Orthodoxy can be found here). David has been blogging about Philosophy, Politics and Culture since 2004. He has contributed to The White Horse Inn and The Gospel Coalition. You can also follow him on Twitter.

  • Benjamin

    I daresay this president is more strongly supportive of religious liberty than any during my lifetime. But he , unlike certain bloggers, realizes that religious liberty is not the same as religious imperialism. Really, they’re quite diametrically opposed.

    Were he opposed to religious liberty, he would do things to trample it, like let religious institutions impose their religious values on nonreligious or other-religion’d employees for example, or let a religion impose and indoctrinate students in supposedly public schools, or pass laws banning medical procedures based on unverifiable claims about souls and ghosts or other beliefs from one religion above others, for instance. Fortunately, his every action in the religious sphere implies that he’s quite committed to religious liberty, quite unlike the religions imperialists who would reverse the meaning of the term so as to falsely imply his opposition thereto.

  • AntiBen

    Benjamin, he is forcing Catholics to provide funding for contraception. He has tried to limit the charitable deduction for wealthy donors. He has placed onerous regulations on non-profits in the guise of Sarbanes-Oxley. He has asked federal agencies to avoid working with organizations that have religious reasons for not hiring homosexuals (USAID is an example – they will no longer work with evangelical organizations). His personal giving shows that he does not care much for religious charities. I personally have little faith that he cares much for the free exercise of religion.

  • Benjamin

    Yes, he’s forbid Catholics from imposing their religion on their non-Catholic employees, he’s required organizations that claim special exemptions to actually earn them on fair ground with nonreligious organizations, and he’s prevented outright religious discrimination in hiring practices, among other things. This is what religious liberty IS… the liberty of the individual to have agency over their actions, regardless of what religious body would like to control or marginalize them. Religious liberty doesn’t end when somebody incorporates. “Religious liberty” does not mean the continuing ability to impose one’s religion on everybody else through force of arms or financial duress… that’s actually the exact opposite, and was never a right in a free state, though those who have unjustly enjoyed it for centuries are in some cases so used to it they can’t tell the difference.

  • gretdhen

    The President is not forcing Catholics to provide funding for contraception as such. The President is saying that religious organizations cannot force their opinions on someone else. An organization that provides medical insurance (which the employees have to pay for) is not funding any particular practice. Besides, I think that the reason that there is so much controversy about this issue in the Catholic church is because of the misconception. Where I work there are several hundred women that claim to be Catholic that use some form of birth conrol. The do not hide it. They will tell anyone that they go to confession a couple times a week to get forgivness for it. That does not make it right and I am not coming down on the Catholic faith. Just like you have the freedom to be Catholic others should have the same freedom to be of another faith or no faith at all.

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.nilsen David Nilsen

    Saying “I do not want to pay for your contraception” is not the same thing as forcing my opinion on you. You are still free to get contraception on your own, but if I don’t support it, I shouldn’t have to pay for it.

    This is the big irony, of course. Folks on the Left keep using this language of people “forcing their opinions on others”, when in reality, forcing the Catholic church to pay for something that they don’t support because YOU want it them to is, well, forcing your opinion on someone else.

  • Benjamin

    It’s not about forcing the Catholic church in particular to do anything; everyone who wants to meet a certain qualification has to provide certain services to their employees. Part of religious liberty is not granting special favors to people or businesses because of their stated religion. One could not, for example, legally incorporate as a business but not pay their employees because they do not believe in it, or open a restaurant but not meet health code standards because their religion venerates flies. Similarly, one cannot pretend that their church is a business if they are not willing to provide what all businesses of their size must provide to their employees. They may be a church, or they may be a business; that the law does not make special exemptions for them based on their better-than-their-fellows status as Catholics is not a trampling of religious liberty, it is a lack of religious favoritism.

  • Tom the Baptist.

    Results of the election have proved Evangelicals hate Mormons more than they hate gay marriage and abortion. Great job. We should embrace Mormans as our brethren in Christ. They can help us defeat evil.

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.nilsen David Nilsen

    Actually, Tom, the current estimate is that 79% of evangelicals voted for Mitt Romney. Mormonism was not a major factor in this election.

  • http://twitter.com/MichaelKares Michael Kares

    More likely that voter fraud tells us Democrats hate Republicans more than they do honesty :)

  • Soujirou7

    That’s rather funny. But I wonder, at what point did our sense of civic responsibility drop so low? I would expect this to be commonplace else where in the world but I find it surprising here.