This weekend, “Saturday Night Live” featured a classic character during the show’s soft open.
Legendary cast member Dana Carvey reprised his role of the Church Lady, a satirical, tight-lipped, judgmental, “Christian” talk show host who delights in pointing out the humorous flaws in others. On this night, Church Lady had as her guest Ted Cruz, as portrayed by SNL regular Teran Killam.
Their conversation took on a surprisingly theological tone.
When confronted with his poor primary performance and withdrawal from the race, Cruz (Killam) declared that he believed, “Everything that happened was part of God’s plan.” The Church Lady responded, humorously (with a Trump joke), “Was it? Was it God’s plan for you to be humiliated by an orange mannequin? That’s kind of an odd plan for God to have for you, isn’t it?”
Carvey’s comedic timing is classic. And so is the timeliness of the issue he raises about sovereignty, especially in a democracy.
Many Christians who believe in the sovereignty of God, have shared a similar skepticism as the Church Lady during this election season. No matter what your political views are, the idea of God’s control in a system which relies on voting (and the will of the people), creates difficult questions—especially when the candidates themselves are so polarizing.
This uncertain season has left many Christians with more questions than confidence.
Questions could go something like this: “Doesn’t God appoint our leaders?” And if so, is it God’s “plan” for the two current nominees to be standard bearers for the two major parties—and maybe even the president of the United States? If God, in His providence chooses the world’s leaders, then should we not, as the Bible commands, submit to their authority?
This winding road will often lead travelers to two very different destinations.
They will either affirm God’s providence but disagree with His choice; or they will deny His providence at which point His involvement no longer matters. So what is a better way for us to make sense of this season of uncertainty?
The Real Question
The real question here is not whether God is involved or if He appoints our leaders.
We who believe the Bible know that all authority comes from God and no person, from parents to presidents, teachers to tyrants rise to that position apart from God’s providence. As Abraham Kuyper, the Dutch theologian and politician, once said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
So God’s providence and control is not in doubt. The question we’re actually seeking to answer is this: Does God’s providence equal His approval?
As Christians we don’t just want to know God’s will, but to stand in it. So if the answer is “Yes,” to if God’s providence equals His approval, then God has chosen national leaders (whomever they may be), He must approve of the national leaders and we should support the national leaders, too.
The problem with this line of reasoning is that it quickly abandons reason and actually runs counter to the character of God. In order to navigate this kind of question, we have to understand that God’s providence is absolute, but His approval is not.
Understanding the Tension
Simply because something occurs under God’s providence does not mean that He approves of it or desires that it happens.
For example, Scripture tells us that we are all sinners, but we know that God neither approves of our sin, nor does He desire for us to continue sinning. God provides grace for sinners, and the greater the sin, the greater God’s grace.
But, Paul makes it abundantly clear in Romans chapter six that this does not mean that we continue to sin in some kind of misguided effort for grace to abound. Likewise, God reigns over human affairs and in his providence leaders rise and fall. But we absolutely should not assume that all human affairs meet God’s approval.
Of course, understanding the difference between God’s providence and His approval creates tension.
The chief example of this tension is Jesus’ crucifixion. Pilate, in a rare democratic move, places Jesus before the people. The authority is his, the choice is theirs and the people chose and cried out “crucify Him!”
Christ, the creator, was crucified on the very tree He created and was put to death under the authority which He granted to Pilate.
At no point was Jesus in limbo, but at no point did God call that event good. Was the crucifixion an evil deed? Yes. Was it ordained by God before the foundation of the world? Yes. Was it committed by evil men, who stood guilty with blood on their hands? Yes. Did God redeem that evil act, so that the very blood on their hands had the power to save them? Yes!
Fast forward to today. Is God sovereign? Yes. Do we have choices in the course of human events? Yes. Are we held responsible for the choices we make? Yes. Does God’s sovereignty give us license to make poor decisions? No it does not.
Understanding how God’s providence and His approval relate does cause tension, and in that tension faith thrives.
Comfort in the Chaos
Everything that we do in our lives, every vote that is cast, every leader that ascends, all of it happens under the providence of God. However, God’s sovereignty does not give us license for sinful choices.
So as election 2016 proceeds, take comfort in knowing that God stands in control amidst all this chaos. But remember, we are called not merely to rest in His control, but to actively display His character in the choices we make. Leaders may rise under His providence, but as long as we choose them, we will be held accountable for whether they meet with His approval.