The United States is not the Roman Empire. The lives of Christians in the United States are vastly different than those of Christians in the Roman world. There is, however, something we can learn from these forebears in the faith: our government is not our God. Don’t forget this on Wednesday. Don’t be too elated if your candidate wins, and don’t be too despondent if your candidate loses. Christians have one Lord, and he doesn’t need to run for office.
You don’t have to be a political pundit to predict a few things about Tuesday’s presidential election. Once the dust settles and we have a new president, some people will experience emotions that will range from relief to elation. Others will feel angry, disenfranchised, and perhaps even heartbroken. Facebook and Twitter will be buzzing with celebration, gloating, lament, and rage. Friends will pop the champagne cork and toast the beginning of a new era. Friends will also wound one another and say things they will later regret.
While all of the energy right now is around Tuesday, Wednesday is just as important, though for a different reason. On Tuesday we vote, but on Wednesday we will have to come to grips with the results of an exceedingly divisive, sometimes downright nasty, election. We will have to face the future we have helped to create. We will have to find a way to live together. How we react in the face of either victory or defeat will show a great deal about our character.
For Christians, it will also show a great deal about how we understand ourselves, and about the depth of our convictions.
Whatever happens on Tuesday, come Wednesday Jesus will still be Lord. This means that, regardless of the election results, the work of the Church will continue. Regardless of who wins, we are still called to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ and to make disciples of all nations. We are still called to teach people to obey all that Christ has commanded and to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are still called into the work of justice, to be peacemakers, and to go to the least and the lost. Some things may change on Wednesday, but the calling of the Church will not.
There is government and there is God, and these are never one and the same. Reflective Christians have always had an ambivalent relationship with the governments under which they lived, even in so-called “Christian” empires and nations. 1 Peter instructs believers to “honor the emperor” (2:17), but if one reads the whole letter it becomes clear that this admonition was a concession to the difficult circumstances in which the early Christians lived. There was a great chasm between the values represented by the Roman emperor and those represented by the followers of Jesus.