It’s finally over. The most-watched election in human history has come to a close. Record numbers of Americans voted. And America—along with the world—watched anxiously to see who would be the next President of the United States.

It looks like Joe Biden has won the day: come January 20, 2021, Trump will no longer be President. (Yes, he’s pursuing legal challenges, but even his aides concede he’s unlikely to succeed).

With Biden claiming victory, some people are ecstatic. Others less so. Either way, the election is over, and many are breathing a sigh of relief. But what can Christians learn from the election ‘apocalypse’—by which I mean it’s ‘unveiling’, or ‘revelation’? What does this unusual election reveal about what’s going on in our world?

Here are 4 reflections:

1. Democracy Is An Act of Faith – It requires a high degree of societal trust to work.

Countries like the US and Australia have thus far taken democracy for granted … But democracy is fragile.

Countries like the US and Australia have thus far taken democracy for granted. We’ve had democracy since our respective nation’s founding. And so, we reason, it’s as certain as a Boxing Day holiday. But as we’re seeing in America (and as we can see in other parts of the world), democracy is fragile. It’s fragile because it requires people to trust others—to have faith in them. It requires us to trust the various governmental institutions to administer elections fairly.

Trump has claimed the elections are fraudulent, and a number of his supporters agree. While he is constitutionally entitled to recounts and making his case before courts of law, his claims weaken his supporters’ trust in the democratic process. And if a majority of people in a democracy lose faith in the political process—especially in elections—then the democracy itself is in peril. After all, if people believe the election is rigged against their candidate, they’re less likely to support a peaceful transfer of power.

Democracy is an act of faith by its citizens.

Time will tell if enough Americans have faith in their democracy to keep it going.

And this where it’s useful to understand the nature of that misunderstood term, ‘faith’. In the common secular understanding, ‘faith’ is irrational; a leap into the dark against or in the absence of evidence. But as the situation in America shows us—and as the Bible affirms—faith is simply a belief. And it can be misplaced—if there’s not much evidence for it. Or well-placed—if there’s evidence to back up the belief. (Which is why Christians have faith in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead: it’s based on evidence).

Thus, every single human being puts their faith in all sorts of things. And right now, most people in America have faith in their democracy; others, less so. Time will tell if enough Americans have faith in their democracy to keep it going.

2. America’s Division Has Moved From Polarisation To Contempt

With just under half of the electorate voting for Trump, America is as divided as ever before.

While it was encouraging to hear Joe Biden’s reconciliatory words in his acceptance speech, saying that he will govern as ‘an American President’, it remains to be seen how much common ground he can find with people who are deeply suspicious of many of the Democratic Platform’s policies (including its stance on abortion and religious freedom). Likewise, progressives are increasingly suspicious (and at times hostile to) those who hold to such conservative values. Polarisation is thus now baked into the system.

But the relationship between the opposite side has moved beyond polarisation. As SMH columnist Waleed Aly argues:

We need a better word than polarisation because that just implies serious disagreement. We’re beginning to see something much bigger than that: people who inhabit completely different worlds. These sides do not merely object to one another, they simply fail to comprehend how the other can even exist. That’s most obviously true of progressives, who continue to express shock at the level of Trump’s support, even though they’ve had four years to get used to the fact … The result is to replace a political culture of disagreement with a political culture of contempt.

And where there’s contempt for the ‘other side’, political stability is weakened. Again, time will tell how long Americans can be contemptuos of each other, and still live in the ‘United’ States.

Of course, this brings enormous challenge and opportunity to Christians: how do we talk about those with opposing political views? Do we love them as ourselves (Mk 12:30-31), or do we follow the world’s drumbeat and show contempt for those who disagree with us?

3. The Political Stakes Are Higher Because we expect Governments to do more, we’re more invested in ‘our side’ winning.

Elections are so much more heated than before because we expect so much more from government.

One of the reasons why politics—and thus elections—are so much more heated than before is because we expect so much more from government. We politicise our deepest problems, looking to government for solutions. As theologian Craig Gay has pointed out, governments are no longer merely involved in maintaining law and order, economics and national defence. They’re increasingly legislating around private areas of life, like family and religion. [1]

And so, there’s more urgency to take the reins of power, so that our side can implement their policies, while also preventing the other side from implementing theirs. A lot of Christians voted for Trump not because they liked him, but in large part to prevent the perceived damage of Democrat policies.

The stakes are so much higher for either side, when government is so big and powerful.

4. There’s a Greater Sense of Despair From Those Who Lost, and Elation From Those Who Won

Given that government has a big impact on society, people feel a greater sense of despair when their side loses, or a sense of elation when their own side wins.
These feeling are taken up a few notches in a secular worldview, where God is non-existent, and thus solving the problems of the world fall on the here and now. In a purely secular world, it’s up to us (read: our government) to solve our problems and make life liveable.

But that’s a burden no government can bear: the higher our expectation of what government should do, the deeper our disappointment when government fails to live up to that expectation.
Thus, in a post-Christian world, it’s no wonder we see increasing levels of disappointment and elation from western citizens.

There Is a Kingdom That Will Never End (And it’s not America or Australia).

Christians are called to live for a Kingdom that’s not of this world, and keep earthly politics in its rightful place.

And yet, Christians are called to live for a Kingdom that’s not of this world, and keep earthly politics in its rightful place. There is a legitimate place for earthly politics in the Christian life, but not an ultimate place. Whatever temporal allegiance we may have to our governments, it’s dwarfed by our higher allegiance to the King of Kings. And so, we engage in the political process first and foremost as citizens of heaven: out of love for neighbour, not out of fear or anger. We vote, we serve, we participate, but we do so as exiles and sojourners, not as people who pin all our hopes to any party or politician. [2]

Thus, while we may grieve when our party loses, we don’t despair. Our King still reigns, come what may. And while we may rejoice when our party wins, we know that the new creation isn’t ushered in by government decree, but by the King of Kings (1 Tim 6:15).

First published at akosbalogh.com

[1] “In addition to the tasks of maintaining law and social order, of minting and underwriting a supply of money, and of defending borders, the reach of the modern state now extends rather deeply into cultural territory as well, and even increasingly into the family and the most intimate areas of interpersonal relations.” Craig Gay, The Way Of The (Modern) World (Or, Why It’s Tempting to Live as If God Doesn’t Exist) (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1998), 34.

[2] Thanks to TGC author Trevin Wax for much of the material in this section: See his article ‘Why Many Americans Will Be Shocked On Election Day’—https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevin-wax/why-many-americans-will-be-shocked-on-election-day/. Accessed 9th November 2020.