How should Christians respond to the 2008 U.S. elections? You've probably already seen or heard opinions on the matter. You may have even given your own.
With so many questions and opinions in the air, a political reality that the Bible refers to over and over again keeps coming back to me. This fact is one of the main messages of the book of Daniel. Daniel himself, Daniel's king, and even angels all declare it. It's not something no one has ever heard before, but it's an important fact to remember (and an easy one to forget) in democratic and totalitarian states alike. It is this:
God is in charge of the ones in charge. He decides who will rule.
God determines who has power and victory. Military might, intellectual prowess, and even political savvy are only tools in His hand. Daniel 1 informs us that Judah's defeat, Daniel's success, and the four friends' abilities all came from God. In Daniel 2, God's wisdom triumphs where man's best efforts fail, both in setting up kingdoms and in interpreting dreams. In Daniel 3, God overcomes even the hottest flames of execution. Daniel 6 is similar, with lions instead of fire being overcome. In all these things, God is in charge.
Daniel 4–5 paints the theme in even more vivid colors. In Daniel 4, Nebuchadnezzar has another dream. He has already come to believe that Daniel's God rules over kings (2:47) and can save in ways no one else can (3:29). Now God wants to make His sovereignty personal, and He will not stop until Nebuchadnezzar gets the message. By the end of chapter 4, Nebuchadnezzar has not only conceded God's point but has also submitted to Him. The language of 4:34–37 is so strong that many interpreters believe Nebuchadnezzar came to salvation.
In Daniel 5, God brings the same message to a different king, Belshazzar, in a way nearly as striking and public as in chapter 4. While Belshazzar and his nobles are using the Jewish temple to praise their idols, "fingers of a man's hand" appear and write a message on the wall. Again, none of the wise can interpret the message, even with great reward offered. Again, Daniel arrives on the scene, this time with great verbal fanfare.
The first thing Daniel tells Belshazzar, after refusing the offered reward, is the story of Nebuchadnezzar's time of madness. He says Belshazzar knew all this already (5:22), and he reminds Belshazzar of God's reason for doing it all: Nebuchadnezzar was proud, and God wanted to humble him.
Then Daniel brings his point home. Because Belshazzar knew all this, Daniel says, he should have responded a certain way. He should have humbled his heart and glorified God. Instead, Belshazzar has ignored the facts. He has lifted himself up against God, drinking from things consecrated to God's worship and praising gods who have no power at all. That pride, Daniel says, is why God has brought to Belshazzar the message that He has.
This brings us back to the United States and the 2008 election. Ignoring God's sovereignty was Belshazzar's problem because it is a human problem. Under totalitarianism, it might be easy to forget that military might and brute force are subject to God's control. In a democracy, it is certainly easy to forget that it's not political savvy, intellectual prowess, or even financial backing but the Most High God that decides elections. In either system, the winners can start believing how great they are, and the losers can grow bitter. Daniel resoundingly prohibits all those responses. God rules over human kingdoms. He is in charge of the ones in charge.
So how should the church respond? How should you respond? The same way Belshazzar should have: Humble yourself before God and give Him glory. When elections go your way, credit God, not your team's campaign strategy, with the victory. When elections go against you, don't vilify your opponents or grow bitter. Instead, humble yourself before God and glorify Him.
I've heard several specific responses suggested, and they are all appropriate. Christians should pray for their leaders (1 Tim. 2:1–4), now more than ever. They should submit to existing powers and urge government to govern righteously (Rom. 13:1–7). They should always give thanks in everything (1 Thess. 5:18). The list could go on.
All these things are part of what Daniel means. Humbling yourself before God in politics requires submission to His will in all these areas. To submit properly in the specifics, however, you must first submit at the fundamental level. In elections as well as in coups, in democratic votes and dictatorial fiats, God is in charge of the ones in charge. He's in charge of putting them there, and He's in charge of taking them down. Once you realize that, you can humble yourself before Him and give Him glory. Then you can pray for those who have the rule over you.