Four years ago, we experienced what was the most bizarre and tense and tumultuous political season in recent American history. Yet somehow, as a result of a number of unique factors, the 2020 election season has seemed to top it.
For the past seven months, every single day has been filled with chaos and division in our nation. We’ve seen a worldwide health crisis. We’ve seen the beginnings of an economic fallout. We’ve seen peaceful protests and violent riots as a result of several public and very tragic deaths. And throughout it all, we’ve seen a relentless stream of political commentary inciting panic, division, and hate among the American people. And now, we are just days away from a presidential election, the results of which will undoubtedly lead to panic and rage and chaos regardless of who actually wins.
Opinions have flooded the internet in aims to help Americans in general and Christians in particular navigate the political situation of the day. Sadly, division among the body of Christ has followed.
Yet Christians should not be divided during this season. Rather, though we may disagree on our final course of action, we should be united around central truths from the Word of God.
Biblical Concepts Related to Earthly Rulers
Consider, for example, three biblical concepts regarding the relationship between God and the kings of the earth.
God’s Sovereignty Over Earthly Rulers
Of course, God is sovereign over everything. God is God. As he says in Isaiah 46:9–10,
“For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’”
Everything that happens in this world is under the sovereign rule of our Creator. God doesn’t react. He reigns.
Specifically, God’s sovereignty extends even to individual earthly rulers. As the Bible says in Daniel 2:21, “He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings.”
Or as Daniel says to King Nebudchadnezzar in Daniel 2:37–38,
“You, O king, the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, and the might, and the glory, and into whose hand he has given, wherever they dwell, the children of man, the beasts of the field, and the birds of the heavens, making you rule over them all.”
God has given all these things into the hand of the king. Because it is God who sets up kings.
Again, Daniel 4:17 clearly states that “the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men.” God places rulers in authority. God sets up kings and removes kings. God rules the kingdom of men and he places whomever he desires into positions of power.
The same concept can be seen in John 19:11, when Jesus tells Pilate, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.”
The point is simply this—God is sovereign over earthly rulers. And by extension, God is sovereign over the office of the United States president. God is not in heaven worried about what is going to happen. He’s not counting votes from his throne. He’s not reacting to what the American people do. He’s reigning. And he’s sovereign over what happens on November 3rd and beyond.
God’s Purposes for Earthly Rulers
Consider secondly God’s purposes for earthly rulers.
The primary role and responsibility of governing authorities in any civilization is to restrain evil. That’s the purpose of the government. So in general, God has set up government and established leaders in order to restrain evil.
But beyond this, oftentimes God uses wicked rulers to judge wicked nations. Sometimes the judgment is internal, and sometimes it is external. In other words, sometimes God places a ruler in authority in order to judge the people of a nation. And other times, God places a ruler in authority in order to judge the people of other nations.
One of the clearest examples we have of this is the minor prophet Habakkuk. The book begins with Habakkuk making a complaint to the Lord about the injustice among the people of the Southern Kingdom of Israel. In Habakkuk 1:2–3 the prophet cries out,
“O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.”
Habakkuk looked around at the injustice and the violence and the wickedness in Israel and said, “God, won’t you do something about this?”
And God answered him. He responds in verse 5 and following:
“Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own. They are dreaded and fearsome; their justice and dignity go forth from themselves. Their horses are swifter than leopards, more fierce than the evening wolves; their horsemen press proudly on. Their horsemen come from afar; they fly like an eagle swift to devour. They all come for violence, all their faces forward. They gather captives like sand. At kings they scoff, and at rulers they laugh. They laugh at every fortress, for they pile up earth and take it. Then they sweep by like the wind and go on, guilty men, whose own might is their god!”
So God says, “You see the wickedness in Israel, Habakkuk? So do I. And you know what I’m going to do about it? I’m raising up the Chaldeans. I’m raising up Babylon. I’m giving them tremendous power. I’m going to give them a mighty military ruler who will lead them in battle. And then I’m going to use them to cast judgment upon the people of Israel.”
Because God uses earthly rulers for his own purposes.
And by the way, as the prophet goes on to demonstrate, God raised up the Chaldeans to accomplish his purpose. And then he turned around and judged them for their own wickedness.
Because in the end, as Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.” In other words, God will accomplish his purposes with his appointed earthly rulers.
God’s Standard for Earthy Rulers
While most would affirm God’s sovereignty over earthly rulers and would likewise recognize God’s purposes for earthly rulers, a third and important component worth considering is God’s standard for earthly rulers.
Because even though God is sovereign over earthly rulers and even though God has a particular purpose for using earthly rulers, God still maintains expectations or standards for earthly rulers.
I think this is particularly important during our current political season because many have made the argument that we aren’t electing a pastor, we are electing a president. And while that’s certainly true, that doesn’t mean that a standard doesn’t exist.
Consider the words of Daniel 5:27, when the writing on the wall comes to King Belshazzar and says, “You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting.” God says, “I have a right to weigh your rule as a pagan king on the scales of my demands and my expectations of rulers, and when I’ve done that with you, I’ve found you to be lacking.”
When it comes to God’s standard for earthly rulers, Scripture points to two primary expectations—character and competence. That is to say that God expects earthly rulers to be men and women who meet a certain moral requirement and to be competent to rule.
Even pagan rulers are held to a standard of morality and honesty. Consider the words of Proverbs 16:12–13: “It is an abomination to kings to do evil, for the throne is established by righteousness. Righteous lips are the delight of a king, and he loves him who speaks what is right.” This is the standard God has for kings—he expects them to be honest.
Or consider Proverbs 28:16 which says, “A ruler who lacks understanding is a cruel oppressor, but he who hates unjust gain will prolong his days.” God says a ruler should be one who doesn’t use his position for his own advancement but for the good of the people that he rules.
Earthly rulers are also expected to exercise justice. As we see in Proverbs 29:4, “By justice a king builds up the land, but he who exacts gifts tears it down.” The idea is simple. A king that exercises justice will build a healthy nation. But one that takes bribes and abuses power will tear it down.
Earthly rulers are expected to be morally upright. They’re expected to be honest. They’re expected to exercise justice. But most fundamentally, earthly rulers are required to be humble toward God. For example consider Isaiah 10, where God says he will punish the King of Assyria for his arrogance.
“When the Lord has finished all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, he will punish the speech of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the boastful look in his eyes. For he says: ‘By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom, for I have understanding; I remove the boundaries of peoples, and plunder their treasures; like a bull I bring down those who sit on thrones. My hand has found like a nest the wealth of the peoples; and as one gathers eggs that have been forsaken, so I have gathered all the earth; and there was none that moved a wing or opened the mouth or chirped.’”
You can just sense the dripping arrogance in this statement. And God says, “I will not tolerate his arrogance. I will punish the king of Assyria for his pride.”
Or consider the case of King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4:28–30:
“All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, and the king answered and said, ‘Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?’”
Daniel has already told Nebuchadnezzar that God has placed him in power. It’s God that has given him this authority and might and military success. But King Nebuchadnezzar is arrogant. He says, “Look at me. Look at what I’ve built. Look at my glory and my majesty.”
But God does not tolerate this. The text continues:
“While the words were still in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, ‘O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.’ Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws.”
The point to see here is that one of the most basic requirements God has for earthly rulers is that they be humble before him. He will not tolerate arrogance in earthly rulers. And by extension, neither should we.
With these biblical principles in place, the question remains as to how the Christian is to apply them to the current political season. Of course, the sovereignty of God over earthly rulers should be comforting for believers to know that the next president of the United States will be God’s sovereign choice. And likewise, God’s purposes for earthly rulers can be seen in the fact that our candidates themselves speak to God’s judgment upon our nation.
But when considering God’s standard for earthly rulers, Christians must carefully weigh how we will vote in response. Because God requires that earthly rulers be men of morality, honesty, justice, and humility. And by extension, so should we. Therefore we should vote with the purpose of placing a president into office who meets God’s requirements.
If we are honest with ourselves, it is clear that neither Donald Trump nor Joe Biden come anywhere close to meeting these requirements. As a result, Christians may differ in terms of seeking out a definitive course of action.
I would contend, then, that Christians have three legitimate options when it comes to their vote on Election Day.
Option 1: Don’t Vote
One option for Christians would be to choose to refrain from voting. Admittedly, I think this is probably the least desirable of all the options. Because although we are primarily citizens of heaven, we are still citizens of this nation. And Scripture tells us that we should be good citizens under our governing authorities. And I think that part of what that includes is responsibly exercising the right to vote. So as a general rule, I think it should be expected of us to vote for our leaders and representatives. However, part of our freedom as Americans and as Christians is that we can choose to not vote. If, after carefully weighing the options, a Christian is bound by their conscience in such a way as to not feel comfortable voting for either candidate, they may exercise their freedom to not vote and still not be in sin. Though ideally this would not be the ordinary course of action for a Christian, it is an option that Christians have during this election season.
Option 2: Write-in or Third-Party Candidate
A second option for Christians would be to vote for a third-party or write-in candidate. The appeal of this option is that it would allow the Christian to vote in good conscience for someone whose character more closely aligns with God’s expectations and whose views they can more reasonably support. But there are also significant and obvious problems with this option. Most notably, we have to be honest with ourselves in recognizing that should we choose this option, our vote will in many ways be a throwaway vote that will not impact the election in any notable way.
Option 3: The Lesser of Two Evils
The third—and final—option for the Christian during this election season would be to vote for the lesser of two evils. The primary argument for this option is based on the reality that barring some kind of unforeseen event, one of either Donald Trump or Joe Biden is almost certainly going to win the election. We can’t change that. So even though we disagree with and distrust both candidates, we can decide that given the option, we disagree with one more and we distrust one more, and therefore we can cast our vote for the lesser of those two evils.
If the Christian is to choose this option, the most important step is to clearly identify which of the two evils is greater than the other. At times, this can be challenging. For example, if you attempt to compare the individual character of Donald Trump and Joe Biden, it becomes clear that both of these men are found to be significantly lacking. Neither candidate is anywhere close to a model of God’s expectations of morality and dignity and honesty and humility. In fact, both of them are quite the opposite.
Instead, I would suggest that a more helpful approach to identifying a more objective evil can be to compare their respective party platforms. Tragically, it is abundantly clear that one party has a written platform that champions a radical moral agenda that is essentially in every way diametrically opposed to God, to his character, and to his Word. And amazingly, it continues to become more and more opposed to God’s Word all the time.
Consider a comparison of the two party platforms on just a few critical issues of our day. First, examine the nature of marriage, which is a fundamental concept that the Bible is explicitly clear on. Here’s what the Republican party platform says on the nature of marriage: “Traditional marriage and family based on marriage between one man and one woman is the foundation for a free society and has for millennia been entrusted with rearing children and instilling cultural values.” But the Democratic party platform no longer mentions marriage at all. In 2016, the platform stated, “Democrats applaud last year’s decision by the Supreme Court that recognized that LGBT people like other Americans have the right to marry the person they love.” So in 2016, they twisted God’s gift to society to include and celebrate the sin of same-sex marriage. But by 2020, they have removed discussion of marriage altogether. They say nothing about the value and the importance of the family—the family that God designed from the very beginning—the family which consists of a father and a mother and a loving home to nurture and care for children.
Related to marriage, consider also the issue of human sexuality. The official Republican party platform denounces the cultural revolution which is “determined to reshape our entire society to fit the mold of an ideology alien to America’s history and traditions.” But the Democratic party platform states, “We will ensure that all transgender and non-binary people can procure official government identification documents that accurately reflect their gender identity.” Amazingly, have become desensitized to the level of wickedness packed into that statement.
Now, those two points should make it clear that one party platform is inherently more opposed to Scripture than the other. But let’s consider perhaps the most important question our society has ever faced—the issue of abortion. Since the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in 1973, more than 61 million human lives have been ended from within the womb of their own mothers. In reality, we are a nation which has legalized and, in many cases, even celebrates infanticide.
Albert Mohler, the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville says this on the issue: “Protecting and respecting human life is the baseline responsibility of any government, but our two parties represent two diametrically opposed worldviews when it comes to human life and abortion. One party is committed to respect and defend life in the womb. The other is determined to support and defend abortion as an unconditional right.”
The respective platforms speak clearly to this divide. The Republican platform says, “We assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental right to life which cannot be infringed.” But the Democratic platform states, “We believe unequivocally, like the majority of Americans, that every woman should be able to access high-quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion.”
This statement and this alone should by itself tip the scale in our minds in determining the greater of the two evils our country is facing.
Both major party candidates are extremely flawed. Neither of them is a man of high character. But it is clear that one of the major parties is diametrically opposed to everything the Word of God stands for. And thus the Christian can only cast a vote in support of the lesser of those two evils.
All of that is to say this—we really have three options. We can consciously choose not to vote. We can exercise our right to vote for a third-party candidate. Or we can vote for the lesser of two evils.
My aim is not to advocate for any one of those positions over the other. Rather, I’m simply attempting to present our options based on the parameters of Scripture. In our freedom, we are not bound to do any particular one of these. We are not bound to vote for any particular candidate. But—we need to be clear on this—we aren’t free to vote for just any candidate either. We don’t have the freedom to vote for the most evil option given to us.
In closing, I want to highlight three brief closing thoughts to remember on Election Day and beyond.
Number one—remember our primary citizenship. Remember that while we are citizens of this nation now, we are to be focused primarily on being good citizens of heaven. Remember that the church’s primary job is not to concern itself with making our country a better place to live. It is not primarily our job to help elect a politician that will help small businesses or stimulate the economy.
No, the church’s job is to bring glory to God. To proclaim the gospel. To make disciples. To be a light in the darkness.
As Mark Dever has recently observed—America is an experiment, but the church is a certainty. Remember your primary citizenship.
Number two—whatever happens on Election Day, don’t put your hope or your faith or your trust in any person or party or platform or any resulting Supreme Court Justices. In the words of Psalm 146:3, “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.”
As the people of God, we are not shaken regardless of what happens in November. Because our hope is not dependent upon the ballot boxes.
Number three—as believers, may we unite around one chief political reality. That God is our king, and he is not up for reelection. Our God is on the throne.
Revelation 1:5 says that Jesus Christ is the ruler of kings on earth. Revelation 19:16 goes on to say, “On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.”
And the day is coming when our Lord will return and he will set up his perfect kingdom on this earth. Isaiah 9 tells us that the government will rest upon his shoulders, and his kingdom will be forever. And it will be a righteous, holy, compassionate, just, and perfect kingdom.
As a Christian, I’m going to pay attention to the presidential election because it will have an impact on my future. What happens in the coming weeks will affect me and my church and my children and the future of this nation. I understand that. Elections have consequences. So I’m going to be paying attention. And I’m going to prayerfully consider the best course of action I can take as a responsible American citizen in order to bring honor to Christ.
But more than anything, no matter what happens, I’m going to take comfort in knowing that God is in control.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses. Some in national security and some in military strength. Some in a president and some in a political party.
But we trust in the name of the Lord our God.