A little Niebuhr to give perspective


As I am writing this, the most acrimonious presidential election season in my lifetime is about to come to a close. To hear the supporters of each candidate, life as we know it will end if the other candidate gets elected.

Yet, when we survey Scripture and understand the environment which Jesus experienced, and in which the early church was formed, we can be in a better position to understand that we need not fall for the doomsday rhetoric.

I was encouraged when I read this paragraph written by H. Richard Niebuhr about Jesus’ faith in God and his skepticism about men.

“Now when we look at Jesus from the point of view of his faith in men, he seems a great skeptic who believes that he is dealing with an evil and adulterous generation, with a people that stones its prophets and then erects monuments to them. He puts no trust in the enduring institutions and traditions of his society. He shows little confidence in his disciples; he is convinced that they will be offended in him, and that the sturdiest of them will be unable to stand by him in the time of testing. Only romantic fictionizing can interpret the Jesus of the New Testament as one who believed in the goodness of men, and sought by trusting it to bring out what was good in them. Yet despite his skepticism, he is remarkably free from anxiety. He is heroic in his faith in God, calling the Lord of heaven and earth Father. He relies in his poverty-stricken existence, without family, food, or lodging, on the one who gives the bread needful for the day; and in the end he commends his spirit to Him whom he knows to be responsible for his ignominious and shameful death. To Him also he entrusts his nation, believing that everything needful will be granted to folk who, turning away from self-defense, seek only the Kingdom of God. Such faith will always seem radical to human beings with their deep suspicion of the power which brought them forth, maintains them, and decrees their death. It is the faith of a Son of God, too extreme for those who conceive themselves as sons of nature, or of men, or of blind chance.”

H. Richard Niebuhr – Christ and Culture

As Christians, we may have a preference for who wins the election, but we should not be dismayed if our preferred candidate does not win. Paul tells us in Romans 13:1 that it is God who oversees the world governments and no result is beyond his sovereignty and control.

Many dictators, emperors, kings, and supreme leaders have sought to eradicate belief in Jesus. As one commentator has said, “the church has always outlived her pallbearers.”

So, my fellow Christians, before you post some gloomy outlook for our country on November 4, please keep in mind that when Paul wrote about submitting to the governing authorities, Nero was the Emperor of Rome.

Let that sink in for a minute. Nero, remember him? The crazy one?

We can, if we exercise the faith of Jesus, become as anxiety-free as Jesus was. We can, if we exercise faith in Jesus like Paul, be as anxiety-free as Paul.

This is so whether there is an “R” or “D” behind the president elect’s name on November 4.