November 7, 2020

Biden our time for a saviour

I put this comment up on Facebook this week and it seemed to resonate:

With Biden set to win his declaration that there will be no red or blue states, just a United States is noble and irenic. But misplaced nonetheless. The divisions in the US (around the West for that matter) are deeper than politics even though they express themselves in politics. The divisions are around what it means to be human, what it means to flourish as a society, and the means to achieve this. There is zero consensus on this, and an increasing antagonism from each side that the other side’s perspective is not merely wrong, but evil.

And as the week has progressed it’s become clear that the division in the US, and again, reflected in the rest of the West, cleaves pretty much down the middle between so called progressives and so called conservatives (so called because surely the labelling is getting tiresome, as they’re all people not voting units!).

Biden will win the White House (bringing a sense of relief to many who want to see a grown-up in there), but the Senate and the House are evenly split.

This fact is much to the anguish of those on the progressive Left, especially in the media who, in the absence of any actual evidence, and a continuing refusal to deliver on their promise four years ago to “listen” to the so-called deplorables, could not see beyond the Beltway. The ongoing, and distinct lack of curiosity about why so many continued to vote for a man that many believe unfit, is instructive. Don’t hold your breath for any incisive commentary from the progressive media.

For all the lather about the Blue wave that would sweep the United States, the people decided to opt for the safe option of putting a check on any political runaway trains. The whole ethos behind the US system, of course, is the deep mistrust of rulers and princes, and their desire for total power. Say what you like, the system worked.

Sure, US Presidents look for total power, but they are resigned to leaving a post-presidency legacy after their few short years in office. Increasingly they are doing that in the Supreme Court, where their fingerprints can last for forty or so years.

How’s that working out for the US? The one place where politico-legal activism/literalism has staying power is now seen as the true place for ideologues to direct their energies and their ire. It’s a constant bun fight. But it’s actually there that you see the deep divisions rending America are not political at all, but deeply cultural. Those wounds don’t seem to be healing, if anything they are exacerbating.

The pesky “we the people” just simply refuse to hold the progressive/conservative line long enough to give either side what it truly wants culturally, so that battle moves to the court.

Of course, Biden is a safe bet for President. He’s an old-school liberal at 77 years of age, so of course his default is centrist. None of the starry-eyed zealotry from him, which is why so many on the more extreme of that side of politics are no more enamoured with him than many Republicans are.

For what it is worth, I think he has dignity and grace, and being a life-long politician doesn’t mean he is there to feather his own nest. I sense he has always seen himself as a servant of the nation in nearly five decades in politics. He will – for the one term that is surely his by dint of defeat or even death – remain dignified. You can’t take out of the bank what you have not put in, as Trump himself has shown. Biden had something in the bank, and he’s going to have to draw from it with all of the strength he has left in his declining years. It could likely kill him.

This centrism sets Biden apart from the extremes in the nation, and is in a sense an aberration. In the secular political where immanence rules and the reality – the imposing reality – of the transcendent has been relegated to the private realm. People are not looking for a servant, they are looking for a saviour. I am not sure Biden gets that, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t want to be a saviour. He is, therefore, going to disappoint many, yet will in the process dial down the heat.

Yet many in the US want a saviour. Demand one, even. And that is reflected across the West. Faced with a lack of transcendent meaning – or a collective one at least – they are looking for someone to enact their personal vision of human flourishing at a communal level for an extended period of time, if not forever.

How that could ever happen, and what that means for those who refuse to sign up to that vision should it win power, they don’t say. Sometimes they hint at it, and the murmurings sound dangerous to me.

Sure, people want happiness and freedom, don’t we all? , But what that actually looks like, and the fact that the things that one person believes will bring those things about, is viewed by another as ushering in misery and bondage, is increasingly problematic for any hope of unity.

And the sheer hostility in the conversations around these deep cultural and existential matters means that chasm will be hard, if nigh on impossible, to close.

It’s like a failing relationship in which the two parties finally give hostile and public voice to that reality, and indeed fan its flames by ratcheting up the insults, sensing all of the time the toxic, yet empowering – and reinforcing – effect it brings. Unless there is deep forgiveness and radical intervention that relationship is over. Telling such ugly truths becomes intoxicating.

Same with the nation. Perhaps too much has been said for it to go back the way it was. Where is there a place for forgiveness and reconciliation? Okay so there was a Civil War before, and the US survived that. Yet back then there was a common vision of humanity that one side, although signing up to, was refusing to enact. When they would not be shamed into it, they had to be forced into it.

But, despite the ongoing failings and injustices, it has largely held – until now. What other nation has fought a civil war over slavery? Rome saw slavery as part of it empowerment, a way to make the nation strong.

The United States saw slavery as ultimately disempowering spiritually, ethically and nationally. That’s the difference between the pagan worldview and the Christian worldview right there. For all of the other matters surrounding the Civil War, the antebellum South would not be shamed into changing what it knew to be true, so it had to be forced.

No such common vision exists now. Biden is tomorrow’s President, but he’s yesterday’s man if he thinks that he can unite a nation that began its unravelling back in the days when he was just starting out in politics, and has only picked up pace since.

And what about American Christians, especially those of the evangelical stripe? Look, I get it if you’re a non-orthodox, revisionist liberal Christian who has no care for the Parousia and indeed sees it as a myth, and a call to ensure that an immanently-framed kingdom is carved from deep political change. I get that politics becomes everything,

But for church-going evangelicals in anguish and anger over Trumps’ loss? Those whose immediate forebears spent so much time drawing charts about the Rapture back in the sixties and seventies? How have they forgotten the truth of these words from Philippians 3?:

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ ..

The key word is “eagerly”. Where is the eagerness for this Saviour from that place? Where is the anticipation that even before the last vote is counted in the US election, the Lord Jesus could roll back the sky, raise the dead, transform his waiting people, and usher in the fullness of the kingdom won at the cross?

Eagerness for Jesus’ return – for their Saviour’s return – has fallen off the radar for those who, in every other respect, claim to be orthodox. Yet in the Scripture it is a standard test of orthodoxy! Now? It’s as if we’re not even biding our time for our Saviour’s return.

And not a few are probably biding their time for Biden’s four years to be up so that their small “s” saviour can be resurrected. Trump is, after all, eligible in 2024. And he’ll not even be eighty, so he’s still a spring chicken by Biden and Pelosi (and Sanders) standards.

So sure, Jesus may come back today, but let’s not get too pent up about it! I generally sense no eagerness at all among huge swathes of Christian culture for the return of Jesus. Virtually none. Earth bound hopes dominate the landscape, proving once again that we are suckers for that immanent frame.

Now, granted, “evangelical” in the US is as much cultural as it is religious, often more so. But this would be a good time to recover the fact that the gospel is good news, and that our citizenship is not defined by an earthly flag.

It would be a good time to understand that neither Trump nor Biden is going to deliver a vision of human flourishing that will take all interests into account, and will leave no stone unturned in the search for justice.

Indeed just two years ago during our Christmas Day service, an evangelical pastor in my home city bailed me up after the service and said he had lost several nights’ sleep. Hey, I’m an influencer, but losing sleep over stuff I write? I’m just not that good!

This pastor was angry over my concern that a prospective evangelistic visit to our shores by Franklin Graham would be sullied by his almost fawning admiration of Trump. I had pointed out that I would be loathe to bring a non-Christian friend to hear Franklin Graham, if all they had to do was Google him before the event and realise there was something “gospel-plus” about it all.

Graham assured Australian Christians he would “only” preach the gospel in Australia, so turn up. Which somehow felt like when international sports teams parade their “B-side” in exhibition matches around the world during the off-season.

This pastor then went on to tell me that Trump was God’s answer to the problems besetting America. All I can say is that this Christmas I hope he realises there’s a more obvious answer to those problems now that Trump is no longer President., I hope he realises – and proclaims – that our hope is from a Servant Saviour who sneaked under the radar of the world leaders back in the day.

Sure, some things are better than others when it comes to political leaders, but the Bible doesn’t end with a wonderful vision of an earth-bound political system delivering the goods. It ends with the sacking – on a single day – of Babylon, and the lamenting of the kings of the earth over this fact.

The prophetic words of Psalm 2 are instructive to us:

Therefore be wise, O kings; be admonished, O judges of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry and you perish in your rebellion, when His wrath ignites in an instant. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

I’ve written a lot about the fracturing nature of our culture, and the loss of a common narrative, and I want to go there again in the coming days as the wash-up from the election continues. But whatever your political stripe as a Christian, probably a good time to remind ourselves where our refuge lies in these increasing fractured times.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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