Every four to eight years, the political tide ebbs and flows predictably, bringing with it the flotsam and jetsam of proposed changes that come from whoever is the new Pharaoh on the block. Sometimes the sensation feels less like a swelling tide of progress and more like a tsunami of undesired seismic repercussions.
This year the sense of foreboding from Christians seems to me to have been more palpable than previous years. I see it in the sheer number of theological blog posts, sermons, and interviews where Christians are reminding each other that God is still in control, Jesus is still King, and the sun will still rise tomorrow.
But it’s also true that sometimes a change in national leadership is very challenging and even dangerous for Christians. Sometimes a change in Caesar brings heightened threats to our religious freedom, steps toward normalizing sin, possible institutionalization of false teachings, and propagation of ungodly worldviews in schools. God works all things for good, and sometimes the “all things” include hard things, like persecution. It’s scary.
That’s okay to admit and it’s understandable to approach the possible changes with a sense of trepidation.
Consider the roller coaster British Christians experienced in July 1553. After celebrating the ascension of the godly, protestant, Lady Jane Grey to the throne, their relief was turned to dread a mere nine days later when she was deposed, detained, and ultimately executed by Bloody Mary. Can you imagine how perplexed believers must have felt as day after day their pastors were hauled off to Smithfield until 250 had been burned at the stake? I’m sure the common sentiment was, “Where is God in all of this? How can this be his will for Britain, for his church, for our religious freedoms?”
The Christians of the first century can be excused for trembling at the bloodlust of Emperor Nero. And what would it have been like for the faithful remnant of God’s people to go from being subjects of the godly King Hezekiah, to being victims of his godless son, Manasseh (2 Kings 21).
Any kid with a Sunday School education learned about the descendants of Jacob, who were enjoying the blessing of God in the prime real estate of Goshen Gated Community, until “…there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8), and who mercilessly enslaved the whole nation.
But of all regime changes the people of God endured, the one I picture as the most terrifying ever, was when the Babylonians invaded Israel in 586 BC. Imagine Daniel, a teenager at the time, seeing the destruction of his homeland, the slaughter of his people, and the forced deportation of, well, everybody. He was given a new name, home, education, and was appointed to serve the new king, who was a “person of faith,” just not the right faith, and was not very interested in “courting the evangelical vote.” And yet, from ruler to ruler, Daniel kept on keeping on. He was faithful to God and God was faithful to him!
And no matter how bewildering the experience was, the Babylonian captivity was all part of God’s predetermined plan, predicted by the prophets, and it ended up accomplishing exactly what God intended in the time allotted—seventy years.
It’s not wrong to acknowledge the potential difficulty ahead and at the same time be worshipful and submissive to our good and sovereign Father who loves us. It must be nice to have Washington on your side. But it’s not necessary, for when God is for us, who can be against us?
Jesus was greatly distressed in the garden of Gethsemane and admitted that his soul was deeply troubled (Mark 14:33-34). And yet he was perfectly submissive to the Father’s will and gladly embraced the cross and its sufferings. Jesus told Pilate that he only had authority because it had been given to him from above (John 19:11). And he refused the safety of twelve legions of angels to deliver him from having his “liberty restricted” by an armed mob (Matt 26:53).