Several weeks ago, an evangelical pastor told me, “At this point, I don’t have any idea who the next president is; I am just praying it will not be a close call.” What he meant was that he was hoping that the election would bring some sort of clarity, one way or the other, to the division he saw all over the country—and in the pews of his church. The day after the election, unsure of who the next president is or when we will know, we now see that pastor’s prayer was not answered.
So what now for Christians?
First, perhaps it’s time to see that the assumptions behind this pastor’s hope—one shared by people all across the political spectrum—is just not possible in the cultural ecosystem of this time in the United States. What many expected—again one way or the other—was an election as a kind of narrative resolution. Those who support President Trump hoped—with (some, it turns out, well-founded suspicion of the polls)—that there would be a clear come-from-behind affirmation of the president on election night. Those who oppose President Trump hoped—and many even expected—that there would be a national repudiation of Trump. Some wanted a “blue tsunami,” and some a “red sea.”
For both sides, this was thought to be a “re-set” for the country. What both groups really wanted is a kind of narrative closure. And they could see examples of such in American history. President Reagan’s massive re-election in 1984 clarified the story America would tell to itself—it was Reagan’s “Morning in America” rather than the “Tale of Two Cities” framing of that year’s Democratic convention in San Francisco. In 2008, the election of Barack Obama signaled to the country an end to the era of the Iraq War and, to many, a kind of fulfillment of the promise of the civil-rights movement of the 1960s.
This sort of longing for a resolution to the national storyline is different from those previous years, though, because of our uniquely polarized times. What many people in the United States—an indeed around the world—seem to want is a kind of total victory in which the other side is vanquished and even humiliated in a way that would cause them to be almost raptured out of the national discussion.
This expectation could be seen in the way that Biden supporters were holding open the possibilities of ending the senate filibuster, expanding the courts, and passing controversial social legislation such as the Equality Act. And it could be seen in the way that the president’s supporters leaked to the media scenarios of firing the FBI director, the secretary of defense, and even Dr. Tony Fauci, not to mention perhaps prosecuting Biden and other political opponents, after the election. One could reasonably say that much of all this was just fan-service for the hardcore supporters of either candidate. Still, behind all of that was the assumption not just that one candidate or the other would win, but that in so doing the country would tell, definitively, a story about just what kind of country this is now.
Even in more typical times, though, that isn’t how elections work. That’s why the fantasies of an “emerging Democratic majority” or a “permanent Republican majority” are almost always dashed by the next election.
The divisions in the country are real, and aren’t going away, regardless of who is ultimately certified as the electoral winner this year. Narrative closure is not what this election could, or should have been expected to do.
The divisions in the country are real, and aren’t going away, regardless of who is ultimately certified as the electoral winner this year.
So how should Christians think of the future? That is complicated by the fact that the church isn’t observing this in the “outside world” as some sort of detached Watcher on the moon. Churches are themselves divided politically, generationally, and racially. An election—whether a blue or red wave—wouldn’t have resolved this.
The first step is for us to realize that the story will not resolve itself. In the 1980s, the country music troubadours George Jones and Tammy Wynette sang a haunting song about a couple in a divided and loveless marriage (something they knew about, as themselves ex-spouses to each other). “I’ve got my story,” Wynette sang. “And I’ve got mine too,” Jones responded. “How sad it is, we now live in a two story house,” they sang together. We live in a two-story nation.
Even when we don’t know who will sit behind the Resolute Desk in January, we know who stands in heaven and will one day join heaven and earth together under his rule. And it will not be a close call.
What America needs from the church right now is for the church to tell a different story—the story of a crucified, resurrected, and reigning Jesus of Nazareth, in whom all things hold together (Col. 1:17) and in whom every storyline in the cosmos is ultimately summed up (Eph. 1:10). That requires the ability to see, by faith, what is behind the veil of reality—a triumphant Christ who isn’t vulnerable to the upheaval of nations and cultures.
We will have to expand our view of how long the plot, in fact, is. The plot isn’t resolved in November or December or even in all the remaining years of your life. This plot line is resolved in terms of trillions of years—indeed beyond what we think of as time itself. Even when we don’t know who will sit behind the Resolute Desk in January, we know who stands in heaven and will one day join heaven and earth together under his rule.
And it will not be a close call.