The much-discussed presidential debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump prompted some Christians to suggest we are witnessing God’s judgement on America. Joshua Ryan Butler unpacks what that might mean


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After watching the US presidential debate, an image from 2 Samuel 24 came to mind. 

After David committed a grievous sin against God by carrying out a census of the fighting men, God gave him three options as a consequence for his actions: he could choose between three years of famine, three months of being chased by his enemies or three days of plague.

The king had choices, but none of them were good.

Similarly, last week’s debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump confirmed one thing for me: we’ve got two options for president and neither of them are good. One could start a third world war with his brashness, the other with his ineptitude.

It’s as if God gave us a menu with only two choices and said: “Pick your judgement.”

In our own strength

I wonder, however, whether the candidates reflect a deeper problem in America as a whole. In Samuel, David’s sin is associated with clinging to power and trusting in his own political strength and military prowess rather than God.

Political leaders cling to power at all costs, Christ shows us a different way

The incident is also preceded by the rebellion of the nation as a whole against God, inciting the narrative of divine judgement (v1).

Similarly, we have looked to political strength more than God to save us – not only in America, but in the Church. I would argue that Christians have increasingly been converting to the new political religions, giving these idolatrous ideologies a higher allegiance than to Christ.

The idol of politics

Politics is good in its proper place but, for many today, it has crossed into idolatrous territory. As I put it in The Party Crasher (Multnomah): “Politics has become the new religion. We have become like the people of Samuel’s day, who demanded, ‘Give us a king, that we may be like the other nations.’ (1 Samuel 8:5)

“They wanted the power, prestige, and peace of mind offered by the world’s ruthless political powers. Yet God responded, ‘They have rejected me as their king’ (v7). Placing such great trust in the mighty Caesars of our day is - whether we recognise it or not - a rejection of God as King. This is true even if we use God language to justify the real Caesar we serve.”

Could it be that our choices for this US election are a sign of divine judgement, as some have suggested? The apostle Paul described a significant form of God’s judgement as “handing us over” to what we want (Romans 1:24-28)., We’ve looked to worldly power more than God to rescue our civilisation. Could God be saying: “Here you go! We’ll see how that works out for you.”

2 Samuel 24 ends in repentance. David turns to the Lord, repents of his iniquity and cries out for mercy. Similarly, we have an opportunity this election season to turn to the Lord, dethrone our political idols and pledge allegiance to the King of Kings. Practically, this would mean not following bad examples of prideful, argumentative and divisive behaviour in this election season.

The early Church had a saying: “God gives a society the leaders they deserve.” One could argue how true this was back then, but it’s hard to get away from the stark reality in a democracy. America chose these candidates. Or, at least, the primaries of our electoral system did - when other options were on the table.

Selfless sacrifice

Interestingly, David has the option of choosing a judgement which affects him alone (“three months of fleeing from your enemies while they pursue you”, v13) rather than the people he leads (three years of famine or three days of plague). He has the opportunity to sacrifice himself on behalf of the people, yet he chooses to let the people bear the weight of judgement instead. In choosing three days of plague, 70,000 people died.

Could it be that our choices for this US election are a sign of divine judgement?

Christ, however, is a greater leader. He chose to bear the weight of judgement upon himself, even though he had the option not to. In a world where political leaders choose to cling to power at all costs, Christ shows us a different way.

Christ takes all three judgements upon himself. In his temptation, he endures the hunger pains of a famished land. At the cross, he takes our plague upon himself. In his death, he allows his enemies to chase him all the way into the grave. Yet this is where he wins the victory on our behalf.

Christ is a greater king, worthy of our higher allegiance. He is worthy of the worship of our hearts and obedience of our lives as citizens of his kingdom. God has vindicated him by raising him from the dead and establishing him as the rightful ruler over all of heaven and earth.

Christ is not looking for your vote; he’s already on the throne. So, to my fellow American Christians, I humbly suggest: prayerfully cast your vote this November, but know that we are not electing a saviour, we’re picking a judgement.