Trump or King Cyrus: God doesn't always work our way

Donald Trump, with Brett Kavanaugh in the background, his pick for the Supreme Court.Reuters

I can understand why the Bishop of Liverpool spoke out so strongly against Donald Trump ahead of his three-day state visit to the UK.

Like the bishop, I am deeply troubled by the President's belligerent and divisive behaviour too, as well as the outrageous "tweets" that seem to fly in the face of many of the values we treasure as Christian believers.

And I have no problem at all with the bishop's conviction that it is right to speak truth to power, whether that comes from massed voices on the streets or in the privacy of meetings held in private with politicians like Jeremy Hunt.

All I would say is that those who disagree with him should do so courteously, conscious that "all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God." (Romans 13:1. NLT)

It's also worth remembering how easy it is to see the speck in someone else's eye whilst failing to see the beam in your own. Stanford historian Niall Ferguson hinted at this in the Sunday Times when he reflected on what he sees as "the British habit of looking down on American vulgarity".

"I would urge readers to take a good long look in mirror before joining in the anti-Trump clamour," he wrote, adding for good measure, "Our sole consolation is that somehow things in America are worse. I hate to break it to you, but they're not."

And lest we become judgmental, let's not forget that Jesus once warned a group of self-righteous people that it is only those who are without sin that have the moral right to cast the first stone.

So why has he found so much support among American evangelicals to the extent that one well known leader has been quoted as saying that in Mr Trump they have "found their dream President"?

As I see it, there are several factors that explain this and it is important that we come to terms with them if we want to understand the diversity and complexity of our evangelical faith.

To begin with, there is the issue of culture. I still remember the Bible study I conducted in a Baptist church in Florida some years ago when the pastor told me that he and his people were completely mystified by the British church's approach to capital punishment. As they saw things, the death penalty was such a clear Biblical teaching.

Some Texans I met displayed a similar difference in cultural norms, too, when they advised me that the best way to prevent school shootings was to arm the teachers (they were about 16-years-old at the time). Statements like these remind me that it is possible to be "sold out evangelical" believers and yet view life through a totally different cultural lens. And it's natural of course to think that our world view is the most Biblical.

Mr Trump has certainly won the evangelical vote by his support for the state of Israel, as witnessed in his decision to recognise Jerusalem as its capital.

Julian Borger noted this in an article in the Guardian in which he said: "For many US evangelicals one of the key preconditions for such a moment (the rapture) is the gathering of the world's Jews in a greater Israel between the Mediterranean and Jordan River. It is a belief known as premillenial dispensationalism or Christian Zionism – and it has very real potential consequences for US foreign policy."

It has much to say about Trump's support base too. According to Borger, "In a 2015 poll 73% of evangelical Christians said events in Israel are prophesied in the Book of Revelation."

The most perceptive and helpful article I have read on the "Trump phenomenon", however, has suggested that his evangelical support is a sign of their weakness, not their strength. Writing for The Atlantic's 'Politics and Policy Daily', Michael Gerson, former aide and speechwriter to George W Bush said, "the primary evangelical narrative is adversarial, an angry tale about the aggression of evangelicalism's cultural rivals. In a remarkably free country many evangelicals regard their rights as fragile, their institutions as threatened and their dignity assailed."

I think Gerson has hit the nail on the head. It helps me see why my evangelical friends "over the pond" see the President as some kind of modern day "King Cyrus" who has been raised up "for such a time as this". Religious freedom, a conservative judge on the Supreme Court, limitations on abortions, all these factors have convinced them that Donald Trump is an answer to their prayers.

I can't say "Amen" to that but even as I write this I have to remind myself that God often works in the most mysterious ways - ways that do not always align with what I think are appropriate.

The prophet Habakkuk had to come to terms with this and no one was more confused than Habakkuk. In fact, his prophecy is more of a question than a divine answer. But in the end, he came to the conclusion that when we don't understand what God is up to, we simply have to trust. As he says, "Look at the proud. They trust in themselves. But the righteous will live by their faithfulness to God." (Habakkuk 2:4 NLT) 

Rob James is a Baptist minister, writer and church and media consultant to the Evangelical Alliance Wales. He is the author of Little Thoughts About a Big God