My main point: I think we should stop saying “It’s OK. God is on the throne.”
• Ryan Patrick McLaughlin
• • •
I have determined not to make the election a topic of conversation with anyone, at least at this point. As for me, it is time to just get back to living and doing my best to love God and neighbor. We have just been through 18 months of too much fruitless talk already.
I’m not burying my head in the sand. I don’t think everyone should take this position. I will continue to be interested as a citizen in what is happening and how things develop with the new administration and in various political contexts. There may be a few people with whom I’ll break my silence along the way, in personal contexts, face to face, if I think we can have a thoughtful and helpful discussion.
However, there is one thing I will continue to talk about, and that’s my post-evangelicalism and why I am where I am. And in the context of this recent campaign and election season, there are a few things to be said.
My post-evangelicalism became exponentially more POST- through this season. Evangelicals have been behaving badly, in my opinion, and I have moved as far away from them as I’ve ever been as an adult.
Please, let me keep my definitions clear. When I use the word “post-evangelical” I am saying I have moved beyond the culture of American evangelicalism. I wrote about this in a 2014 post called, “It’s the Culture.”
…For many post-evangelicals like me, it is the culture that became a primary problem. When I say I am in the wilderness, I certainly don’t mean I’ve lost my faith. I have lost my “world,” my “culture.” I don’t fit any more. Some of us may agree with one tradition more than another when it comes to beliefs; we may even feel perfectly comfortable with a simple, basic set of evangelical doctrines as the content of our “faith.” But its forms can no longer sustain us.
So, here we are a few days after the election, and what do I hear people from this evangelical culture, this world, saying?
“It’s OK. God is still on the throne.”
“God is still in control.”
“No matter what happens, God is still the King.”
“God is still sovereign, and his will will be done.”
“God lifts up and casts down rulers; he’s in charge!”
“We must not put our trust in people. The battle is the Lord’s.”
This from the crowd that emphasizes that each person must make a personal choice to accept Jesus into one’s heart, and that all of our choices as human beings can have significant, even eternal consequences.
“GOD IS STILL ON THE THRONE” — these words may represent the epitome of evangelicalism’s cliché culture.
Ryan Patrick McLaughlin over at Intellectual Takeout puts a magnifying glass on these shallow words and finds them wanting.
Leading up to the election and on election day, I repeatedly encountered people calming their fears by saying, “It’s OK. No matter what happens, God is still on the throne.”
I identify as a Christian, but I find this sentiment unhelpful and troubling.
“It’s OK. God is still on the throne.”
What does that mean? That no harm will befall people?
- When Nazi Germany was slaughtering Jews and other non-Aryans.
- When America engaged in the Tuskegee experiments.
- The Rwanda genocide.
- September 11, 2001.
- The 2004 tsunami in Indonesia.
God being on the throne is far from a guarantee that no harm will befall us.
McLaughlin goes on to debunk the intellectual twists that often accompany these trite and ultimately meaningless expressions.
- It’s providence, right? It means God will always work things for good, right? But if “God directs the world as God sees fit, and we just have to trust that it’s all for the good,” is that really a satisfying answer for the sufferer? And what does “good” mean, and when will we ever see that? And am I supposed to do anything or just wait?
- But people also have free will, right? It is little comfort to one suffering if God is on the throne yet does nothing in the face of human freedom to choose evil.
- God is omnipotent, but that doesn’t mean he uses his power to coerce people, does it? If God somehow “rules” but does not coerce humans, what power does he actually have over those who are set on causing suffering?
- It’s eschatology, isn’t it? — God will ultimately put things right. Great. But does that mean whatever happens now is simply okay because God is working toward some ultimate good?
Ryan McLaughlin summarizes his point:
My main point: I think we should stop saying “It’s OK. God is on the throne.” If anything, we should say it is not OK. We should cry out for justice from God like the prophets and psalmists did in their lamentations. “Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not cast us off forever! Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression? For we sink down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground. Rise up, come to our help. Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love.” (Psalm 44:23-26)
Once again, it’s the world that claims to be the most “Bible-believing” that appears to be the least formed by the actual words and perspectives of scripture.
People in the world of evangelicalism insulate themselves from reality by such shallow Christianese. It doesn’t actually help anybody to say, “It’s okay, God is still on the throne.” It’s akin to saying, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill” (James 2:15). It also doesn’t even mean anything when you stop and think about it. It is a sentence full of empty, impotent words.
“God is still on the throne” is just another one of those tribal sayings that lets us know we made the team. We’re accepted members of the right world. We’re on the right side. Phrases like this are “secret handshakes” that let us in the door and reassure us that we’re on good terms with the players in the room. We wear it as a badge of political correctness that protects us from suspicion and trouble, a passport that gives us free access throughout the kingdom.
It’s also a comforting mantra that assuages our deep fear that God may actually not be on the throne. Or indeed, that there may not even be a “throne” in any way we can truly grasp.
But we would never say that, would we?