“In Your Gracious And Strict Hand”: Some Post-Election Thoughts Via Karl Barth
I’m sure quite a few people who know my record have been surprised at the near total absence of political posts this election year. There are several reasons for that. First, with my emotional energy limited, I decided to channel what I had to the disputes within the United Methodist Church. Early this spring, it looked pretty clear that the Republicans would do quite well. Nothing I wrote would change that. Why waste emotional energy and everyone else’s time and having no impact when I could just as easily engage myself in discussions in which it was possible I might make a difference? The decision, then, seemed simple enough.
While I congratulate the Republican Party on their wins across the country last night, I can’t help but wonder what those who voted for them were hoping to accomplish. Even less will get done in our nation’s capital. There is every possibility Congress will initiate impeachment hearings, if for no other reasons than they can. So we’re going to coast through the next two years, with the one hope that we’re neither pushed nor bullied in to yet another war, treating our military personnel as disposable heroes.
I have read more than a few people bemoaning last night’s election results, despite the fact it has been predicted for weeks, if not months. That some well-placed candidates, particularly in Texas and Kentucky, managed to lose what had been leads, only shows the continuing campaign ineptitude of the Democratic Party, as well as their refusal to make mid-term elections national. I don’t see that changing much in the future, either. We are where we are, and the nice thing is the sun came up this morning, the world didn’t end, and we’ll muddle through as we always have, the best we can with the worst at our disposal.
Which leads me to the reality I just no longer see in politics, at least as our parties are currently structured, any way to make significant changes. While President Obama and Congress over the past six years have passed important laws, by and large we’ve muddled through years of bickering, with the added nonsense that comes from far too many waving their racist freak flag a bit too publicly. I have little doubt that things will either not change or become steadily worse over the next couple years, and there’s little to nothing I can do about that. So, I shall do what I can where I can, letting the process, and history, play out as it will.
Yesterday, I was at my wife’s office, helping her move her office space. I brought home a few books that had been sitting on her shelves, rescued either from exile in Rochelle or the terror of a book sale (coming soon!). One of those books is an old collection of fifty prayers from the great mid-20th century Swiss theologian Karl Barth. One of those prayers, No. 44, I found particularly apt for those of us who are saddened by defeat and fearful for the future. I quote it now in full, from pp.54-55:
Dear Heavenly Father, we thank you. And now, let it happen and be true in our hearts, speech and actions, that we praise you and agree with you day by day, on this day, tomorrow, and the day after, in the power of your Holy Spirit. Bear with and sustain us henceforth, each one of us. We all need it, each in our own special way. Be and remain the God who is our help for us, for all who are here in this house, and for all our relatives near and far!
But also be and remain the same above and within the confusing and confused, oppressing and oppressed human actions and events of our days! Say and show to all that they are not lost to you, but that they also cannot run away from you! Show yourself everywhere as the Lord of the pious and the godless, the clever and the foolish, the health and the sick; also as the Lord our our poor church, Protestant, Catholic, and all others; as the Lord of good and bad governments, of the well-nourished and the malnourished people; especially as the Lord of those people today who think that they must speak and write either good or not-so-good things; as the Lord of protection for all of us, to whom we are able to commend ourselves, but aslo as the Lord of judgment for all of us, to whom we are responsible, at the final judgement and already today.
Great, holy, and merciful God, we yearn for your ultimate revelation, in which it will be clear to all that the whole created world and all of history, all people and their life stories were, are, and will be in your gracious and strict hand. We thank you that we may look forward to this revelation. All this we ask in the name of Jesus Christ, in whom you have loved, chosen, and called us from eternity. Amen.
My faith certainly doesn’t lie in our elected officials, of any party. It doesn’t lie in some individual or office that will somehow rescue us from our worst selves, or (what is perhaps even more bitter) our best selves, wrapped in unreflective self-righteousness and the best of intentions. My hope – our hope – rests in what we cannot see, perhaps blinded by tears of sadness or eyes closed as we cheer loudly in victory. Our hope lies in the faith and trust that all of this, from our individual lives to the whole Creation, rests within the loving, gracious, and strict guidance of the God who loves this Creation so much as to sacrifice the Son for its redemption and renewal.
So, celebrate or complain, cheer or whine, in the end it’s all temporary, will all change, and all of it rests with God, whose ultimate purposes we believe cannot and will not be put off, even in an election won or lost.