I think I’ll watch a movie on election night, probably Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The film was nominated for eleven Academy Awards and has a stellar cast, including the great James Stewart.
In the movie, an unlikely replacement is chosen for a recently deceased U.S. Senator. He finds himself surrounded by corruption, taken advantage of by a worldly-wise press, and pictured as a dumb ox to the nation.
Senator Smith runs afoul of some corrupt senior members, who determine to ruin him, vacate his seat, and replace him with a more compliant member. Plans are made and steps are taken to humiliate the young senator, break him, and drive him out. In spite of the temptation and corruption, Smith manages to remain true. It is, in many ways, a story for our time.
Mr. Smith is my plan for election night. I won’t be watching the results into the wee hours of the night. I will pay no attention to the exit polls. By election night, I will have already done what I can do to influence the election – pray and vote – and what I cannot do, control the outcome, I will leave to God.
Perhaps this seems too laissez-faire. This is, after all, the most important election in our lifetimes – or at least that is what people keep saying. Even if they are right, fretting about the outcome will not change it. Worry will accomplish nothing, as Jesus explicitly taught. I will pray and vote, but I will trust God with the outcome.
The Bible pictures God as big enough to handle circumstances, even ones that are as volatile as ours. The psalmist says that God brings down one person and exalts another. The prophet adds that “he sets up kings and deposes them.” I think the same could be said of presidents. This election will not and cannot undermine God’s supreme authority.
Still, what if America gets it wrong? What if we, confused by fake news and misled by spin masters, choose the wrong person?
There are a couple of answers to this question but “Let’s all worry about it” is not one of them. The psalmist wisely cautioned: “Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong … Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.”
It might help to remember that half of America thought we chose the wrong person in 2016 but, even so, America did not cease to exist. There have been many things that have gone wrong since then, some that have gone right and, in spite of it all, here we are making our choice again. God willing, we will be back at it in 2024.
Besides that, we have things to do that won’t leave much time for fretting. To begin with, we can take the Psalmist’s counsel and replace fretting over people with trusting in God. Whatever happens in and around the election, God will prove faithful to those who trust in him. They will maintain their equilibrium in the event of an electoral earthquake. As another psalmist put it, they “will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.”
In the wake (or quake) of the election, there will be opportunity to do good, which is precisely what the psalmist instructs after telling people not to fret. One such good is to be peacemakers, regardless of election outcomes. This is a principal role of Jesus’s people. They pursue justice and live as people of peace at the same time, creating a space around themselves where others are safe.
The situation may also provide an opportunity for generosity, another good the psalmist suggests. If there is civil unrest in the aftermath of the election, there may be a need to be generous with possessions like food and toilet paper. There will certainly be a need for generosity in our estimate of others.
Patience will be needed to accomplish these goods, so we must take the long view. No one is better able to do this than people who trust God to hold the future.
(First published by Gannet.)