I’ve been following politics almost as long as I’ve known how to read. My family didn’t have a television, so we got three newspapers every day. I loved scampering down to the end of our driveway every day and bringing them back to the house where I’d read the news. I was one of those nerds who read Time and Newsweek and U.S News and World Report in middle and high school and who subscribed to The National Review with my own money.
Most people (thankfully) don’t follow politics as closely as I do and most people don’t treat every election night like it’s the Super Bowl. But all of us have an interest in who shapes our communities and our country. And increasingly, in an age of social media and nonstop cable news, politics is all around us every day.
In our particularly polarized age, election days are often moments of great euphoria or times of tremendous despair for many, depending on whether or not a particular candidate or party was victorious. I’ve seen (and sometimes experienced) these scenarios many times in my life. In light of the upcoming midterm elections on Nov. 8, which determines who controls the U.S. House and Senate, it’s important to remind ourselves how we should think about politics as believers and how we can help other people work through whatever they may be feeling as the results set in.
First, regardless of who wins, we should thank God for the privilege of living in a country where we have some say in who holds power. Our system of government is far from perfect. We’ve not fully lived up to the ideals in our founding documents. And in shameful times of our history, the choice to vote has not been held by everyone. But today, while politics can be frustrating and annoying and play to our worst instincts, we have an opportunity to have some small part in choosing who makes leadership decisions. There are many people around the world who don’t enjoy such freedoms, who have zero control over who rules over them, and who have little input on the laws they are required to obey. So, gratitude should be our first instinct after an election.
Second, we should recognize that while politics is important, parties ultimately rise and fall. Movements come and go. Coalitions form and are broken up. I’m old enough to remember several moments when it seemed Democrats would hold power indefinitely. And then two years later, Republicans swept into office. And I’m old enough to remember moments when it seemed Republicans were permanently ascendant, only to suffer huge defeats in the next election cycle. We shouldn’t rise too high or sink too low with a single election. History shows us that in our durable democracy, voting patterns shift, events happen, and things don’t stay the same.
Third, while I believe engagement in politics is an important exercise of Christian stewardship in our representative republic, politics is not everything. For someone like me who enjoys keeping abreast of political trends, enjoys reading American history, and looks forward to election days, it is important for us to continually root our joy and hope not in the next vote, but in what we know never changes: the Kingdom of God. Too often, Christians are tempted to put all their faith in the temporal. But while politics can be a useful vehicle in bringing our faith to bear on our communities, it is just that, a vehicle. Politics can easily seduce the soul into being an all-consuming endeavor, with religious fervor. As Christians who believe that all governments on this earth, even governments we love, are temporal, we should hold our politics loosely. Who wins matters and has serious implications, but what matters most is not what is happening in Washington, D.C., but what is happening in our local churches every Sunday.
That truth brings me to my final reflection for election season: Christ is Lord over all. Kingdoms rise and fall. Leaders come and go. Movements ebb and flow. But we belong to a King and a Kingdom without end (Heb. 12:28). So whether you are exulting in victory or are tempted to despair, remember that Christ reigns over all, and nothing happens that is outside of his purposes.