What Does The Bible Have To Say About A Trump Presidency?
Donald Trump has been dubbed the 'President of the Divided States of America' by Time Magazine. My Twitter feed bears witness to this. I have seen friends heralding Trump as the anti-Christ and others who speak about him in glowing, messianic terms. The world is either in jeopardy or justified in a celebration – and lots of Bible verses have been quoted on both sides. These social media comments have made me wonder – how should we read world events as Christians? What has our Bible really got to say about such things as new presidents?
1. The proof text ping pong
When Osama bin Laden was shot dead by Navy Seal team 6 it was accompanied by a telling object lesson in the use of Scripture. My social media feed had two equal and opposite reactions and both sides used proof texts which were batted back and forth like a ping pong ball.
One would quote Proverbs 24:17: "Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice."
Another would quote Proverbs 21:15: "When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers."
Or one would quote Ezekiel 18:23: "'Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked?' declares the Sovereign LORD. 'Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?'"
While another would quote Proverbs 11:10: "When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices; when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy."
You can see what is happening here. Each side reads the Bible through their political and moral preferences and finds passages of Scripture to affirm those preferences. A similar tendency in selecting Bible passages has been happening regarding the arrival of Donald Trump's presidency.
The challenge is, how can we correctly interpret not only the world we are living in, but also the Scriptures that we are using to interpret the world? If we are not careful our approach to Scripture is shaped more by our personal politics, the media or the dominance of opinion on our social media feed than what Scripture really has to say.
One of the best ways we can combat this is to allow people into our lives who are not aligned in the same way we are and will challenge us to see the world differently. We will not always agree with them and nor should we, but it can be a powerful way to try to hear what Scripture really has to say.
But what do we do when people's use of Scripture leads to contradictory interpretations of world events? I read recently of someone who worked out that as Trump was going to be the 45th president of the United States, he felt led to read Isaiah 45 which describes King Cyrus who is the Lord's anointed leader. But Isaiah 45 also includes a dire warning from God, who states the fate of all those who have refused to acknowledge him: "All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame." One of the most effective ways that we can hear scripture fairly is to pay less attention to our own context and more attention to the original context of the passage. If we force Scripture to answer questions it was never intended to answer then we will most likely come to the wrong conclusion. When Isaiah was writing down his prophecy he had no idea about Donald Trump, he also had no idea that anyone would add chapter or verse numbering to his work. So any association between King Cyrus and Donald Trump is coincidental at best and manipulative at worst.
If we are going to take the Bible seriously we must take it on its own terms and not impose bizarre reading strategies on to it.
2. The prophetic voice
I probably have equal numbers of friends who believe that the gift of a prophetic utterance ended with the apostles and those who believe it still continues today. For those Christians who believe that God still uses supernatural means to give revelation to Christians, some seem to focus more on personal information, others on global events. In the Bible itself we see both in play. For example Paul is warned by the Spirit that he is going to be imprisoned when he gets to Jerusalem (Acts 20) but we also see Daniel being given insight into the future of the empires that were going to rule the world (Daniel 2). Personally, though I do believe in God's ongoing use of prophecy today, I am very cautious about how this works.
I have heard too many abusive stories of personal prophecy. "God has told me that I will marry you," says the young man. "Well he hasn't told me – so push off" says the empowered and biblically confident young woman. But this kind of prophetic misuse takes place in global issues too. Sometimes leaders proclaim themselves God's appointed ruler. Sometimes so-called 'prophets' claim inside information on whom to vote for, or what specific sin has caused the latest global tragedy.
We are told very clearly to avoid two extremes when it comes to the prophetic word. 1 Thessalonians 5:20-22 says: "Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil". Contempt, cynicism and credulity are unhelpful. However deference and discernment are both equally important.
How do we practise these two things when it comes to prophecies that claim that Trump is God's chosen servant and will do only right in his eyes, or that claim that Trump is the anti-Christ and must be overturned? One strategy is to allow the clearer and more straightforward passages to interpret the more figurative and allegorical. We are told in scripture that we need to pray for all those in power (1 Timothy 2:1-2). We are also told that all of us are sinners and yet leaders are to be chosen on the basis of their character. We are told to speak up for the rights of the marginalised and the needy.
3. The eschatological cup
Just as some are glass-half-empty people while others are glass-half-full when it comes to life, we find the same when it comes to Christian theological frameworks. For some the world is spiralling downwards in a degenerative descent towards Armageddon: every global disaster is another damning piece of evidence that the end of the world is being ushered in. For others the world is on the verge of a great awakening, and so we await the revelation of Christ as king or the next outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Neither of these two extremes are helpful, as the Bible teaches both that there will be dark days ahead and also that the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that grows and expands. There will be ups and downs, challenges and victories, and so we must be ware of monotone eschatological frameworks that fail to leave room for either breakthrough or breakdown in the progress of the coming kingdom of God. So we should not allow defeatism or triumphalism to inform our outlook on the world. Just because the leader or party we support gets elected does not mean we are one step closer to heaven on earth. But neither does it mean that when the leader or the party we support gets defeated does it mean the earth is teetering on the edge of destruction. Ultimately only God is the source of our hope and assurance for the future, not any political or military leader – we should not project our confidence or despair into the current political situation we find ourselves in.
4. The allegorical angle
Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time used to hold the record for the "most bought but least read" book in history. Similarly, the book of Revelation may be the "most quoted and least understood" book of the Bible. Because of the beautiful and disturbing word pictures within it, Revelation provides rich pickings for Christians trying to understand life in the 21st century. Some will interpret a current world leader as being a disguised anti-Christ while others will see a foreshadowing of Jesus on his white horse. My understanding of the book of Revelation is that it was never intended to be a truth time capsule that was buried at the back of the Bible that would be useless for 2,000 years because they were predicting the events of the 21st century. The book of Revelation, like all scripture, has been "useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16) ever since God first inspired the apostle John to write it. So, that means the imagery contained in it is not supposed to apply directly and mysteriously to individual leaders or events. However, the grand themes of Revelation absolutely apply today. Whatever is going on in our world – the challenges and crises – are ultimately in God's control and one day every knee will bow before the Lamb on the Throne.
5. The morality call
After Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans I heard many Christian leaders claim that this was God's judgment on the dark activities of that region. Or when an earthquake destroyed so much of Haiti, again this was attributed to the judgment of God on a corrupt nation. But when Jesus was asked to interpret some disasters that took place in his day, his answer was very different. A tower had fallen down and killed 18 people in Siloam. Around the same time the Roman Procurator Pontius Pilate killed some worshippers from Galilee as they offered their sacrifices. Some people had assumed that these victims must have committed some terrible crimes. Jesus rejects this way of thinking completely:
""Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish" (Luke 13 3-5).
This passage from Luke's Gospel warns us against a simplistic interpretation of tragedy assuming guilt for those who suffer. Jesus reiterates this lesson when his disciples ask him why someone was born blind, assuming it was caused either by personal or parental sin. Jesus refuses this interpretation. Similarly in the book of Job – sometimes, unexplainably it is not the wicked that suffer but the righteous. The same logic is present at the crucifixion, where Jesus was abused and then killed even though he was absolutely innocent of any crime or any sin. We should be very slow to judge the suffering of others or we will find that we have more in common with those that mocked Jesus on the cross than the one who died for the suffering and sins of the world. Instead we should reflect on the sins we know about – those in our own lives.
We have explored five different ways that Christians use to interpret the world around them. Although they may seem good at one level – searching Scripture, or thinking prophetically or eschatologically –they can have major flaws.
For my part, I believe God wants us to live faithfully whatever the circumstances we are in, whichever side of the political debate we find ourselves on. I don't think that most of the time God gives us a detailed knowledge of how global events are playing their part in his over-all ordering of the universe, although I look forward to finding out the other side of eternity. Instead we are given instructions on how to live in every circumstance – namely to live lives of faithful and courageous obedience, being loving and gracious to one another, and in true personal repentance.
Dr Krish Kandiah is the author of 'Paradoxology: Why Christianity was never meant to be simple' which is published in the US next month by IVP.
He tweets @krishk.