Like many, I’m still reeling from the US election result. Right now, and from right here, the world’s future looks more uncertain and more troubled than ever.
God clearly didn’t answer my prayer not to let Trump be elected president, nor the prayers of millions of others asking the same thing. But did God actively answer the prayers of those who wanted Trump in, or was the decision effectively out of his hands – or one he washed his hands of?
Was God’s will done in the US election result? And more widely, how much is God’s will done on earth? To what extent do world events and events in our lives reflect his plans and purposes?
Of course there’s a full spectrum of Christian views on this, from complete divine non-involvement all the way through to complete divine control…
For the true deist, God watches and judges human affairs ‘from a distance’, never intervening in this world. Some feel that for God to get involved in our messy business would be to sully himself, or would inevitably mean some form of partisanship (like favouring the nation of Israel for example), which they feel would be incompatible with his perfection.
So by this view, God leaves us entirely to determine our own fates. The US election result is therefore purely and solely human, with no divine involvement – a view for which I find I suddenly have some sympathy.
Sometimes it does feel very much as though God is absent or far-off, that he does not heed our desperate cries for help and change, that he is not involved or even interested in the mess and muck of our lives and situations. We see thousands dead, starving or displaced by conflicts and disasters, we see evil rulers and regimes prospering and good people oppressed, and it’s easy to believe that God has simply abandoned humanity or remains aloof, emotionally as well as physically uninvolved.
Yet I simply cannot and will not accept that this is the reality. I’m not sure whether God has entirely human-like feelings, yet I am convinced that God is passionately involved in this world, that he cares hugely about us, what we do and what happens to us. And further, I believe that he is actively involved – but that often his hands are tied, or that he plays the long game.
…or completely in control?
For the true determinist or extreme Calvinist on the other hand, God is utterly sovereign and everything that happens, for good or ill, does so because he has willed it – or at the very least has allowed it to happen for his greater purposes.
By this view, Trump’s recent victory must have been God’s will and plan. Though some might say that God had brought it about to punish humans rather than to bless them – a view which would chime slightly more with how I feel, though I can’t really accept it.
For if the extreme determinist view is correct, then all wars, famines, rapes, murders and other atrocities are in some way the result of God’s will. Proponents argue that God has the right to do whatever he chooses with his creation, and that all humans are sinful and deserving of punishment; or else that suffering is often our only route to redemption.
I can’t logically refute this view – I can only say that it does not look like the God I think I know a little in Jesus.
Is God’s will always done?
So is God’s will always done on earth? No, I absolutely do not believe so. I don’t think that Jesus would have instructed us to pray ‘Let your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven’ if that were already and automatically the case. God’s will is not and will not be perfectly done until his kingdom comes fully and his reign is complete over all the Earth.
In the meantime we must live in the messy in-between space of the ‘now and not yet’. God’s kingdom and life keeps breaking through the cracks in our old world order, but for now that old order still dominates and mostly does not reflect God’s character or purposes. Instead the old cruel laws of entropy, gravity and inertia reign, and by grace we endure and resist them as best we can.
A limited sovereignty?
But isn’t God sovereign? Yes, but he has chosen to delegate some of his authority and responsibility to us his creatures. He lets us make real choices with real consequences for good and ill. He may warn us but he does not step in to prevent us choosing badly, nor bail us out every time things go wrong.
You could perhaps say that God’s hands are tied by his love, which cannot coerce but can only woo and persuade. And his hands are also tied by his desire for our development, our maturity and character, which can only be formed by the long, slow and often painful processes of real life in the real world; of taking responsibility and overcoming adversity.
So there is much that I believe God will not do to intervene. But what I believe he does do is work redemptively on the material we present him with. I believe that he also works incarnationally, in and through us as far as we let him. We are his hands and feet, his body on Earth; we are his flawed image-bearers and kingdom-bringers – God help us.
God of the small and hidden
So I believe that we see God at work not so much in the great powers of this world but in the small and hidden things, the slow quiet changes unnoticed behind the scenes; the gradual transformations within each of us.
And I also think God plays the long game – he is focused not so much on quick solutions for today or tomorrow as on long-term goals for years or even centuries ahead.
I also wonder, tentatively, whether sometimes God may not allow evil to prosper for a limited time for reasons we can only guess at. Perhaps it’s because adversity strangely seems to bring out the best in humans, uniting us and growing our characters. Or perhaps it’s to give us an opportunity to stand for light and against darkness; to meet cruelty with kindness, and brutality with humanity; to overcome evil with goodness, and show that in the end love wins. Perhaps.
Light in the darkness
To my mind, Trump’s election represents a victory for the bad old order of things that will one day be swept away by God’s kingdom. I don’t believe it was God’s good and perfect will. I feel that there are dark days ahead for the world, and for many in America.
But God is with us in our darkness. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not – and will not, ever – overcome it.