Searching For Donald Trump In The Story Of Jesus
Based on a current swirl of debate in the air about the place (or potential displacement) of Donald Trump in the world as we know it, I am re-posting this essay that I wrote shortly after he was sworn in as President in January, 2017.
At the end of this post, I will share with you a guiding prayer offered after the inauguration of our new president, by my friend and fellow pastor from Washington, D.C., Rev. Duke Kwon.
But first, a few things to establish the tone. Mr. Trump is neither the savior nor the devil. He is a frail, fallen, image-of-God bearing and broken and pompous and imperfect and talented and offensive and misguided and intelligent and rude and brash and inflammatory and sometimes shockingly vile and paradoxical man whom God decided — in his infinite (and, indeed, mysterious) wisdom — should occupy the most powerful office in the world for a time.
Whatever hope and happiness some might be placing in Mr. Trump to be the answer to the world’s problems, such hope is misguided, as only Jesus has the power to change the world with all of its complexities and social problems and thorns and thistles.
Conversely, whatever immobilizing despair and rage others might be feeling over Mr. Trump fails to account for the fact that Jesus is still firmly seated on his throne, holding the hearts of all kings in his hands, including this one. In the grand scheme of the Kingdom of God, whether or not the Oval Office of the United States is occupied by a vile or virtuous leader is beside the point.
This is not to say that for Mr. Trump’s supporters, there is absolutely nothing positive to celebrate about his new role as president (there are some legitimate positives which have led some thoughtful people to support him). Nor is it to say that for those who have deep concerns about Mr. Trump’s new role, there is nothing to be concerned or bothered by (there are some legitimate negatives which have led other thoughtful people to oppose him).
The sole question I would like to address here is, what is the Christian’s role, and what should be the Christian’s posture, toward a controversial president — or for that matter, toward any president? The answer is, on the top level at least, the same for Mr. Trump as it is for each and every leader before and after him. Meaning…
First, our baseline should be to pray for Mr. Trump and all national, state, and local leaders as the Scriptures lead us to do. Let’s affirm him if and when when he makes decisions and supports initiatives that help advance the common good. Furthermore, let’s refrain from insulting him personally, but look for ways to speak respectfully because of the office he occupies, in a similar way that young David insisted, “I will not raise my hand against my lord; for he is the Lord’s anointed.” (2 Samuel 24:10) These are God’s words, not mine.
Later on, it was the Lord himself who rejected Saul as King. But until such time, David, out of respect for and deference to God’s sovereign care and mysterious ways, looked past the finite and foolish man Saul to the office he occupied. More importantly, he looked even further past that to the infinite and wise God who, for reasons flowing from his own purposes, placed Saul in that office for a time.
The goodness or vileness of a world leader, again, is ultimately beside the point as far as the followers of King Jesus are concerned. Peter’s words, written to Christians and churches who were facing persecution and death beneath the iron fist of a vile, power- and bloodthirsty Roman emperor, wrote, “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.” (1 Peter 2:17).
This does not mean Christians should never speak truth to power (Bonhoeffer and King come to mind). Nor does it mean Christians should be disengaged from political systems and discourse. What it does mean, however, is that Christians can (and must) take the cosmic view that tells us King Jesus remains sovereign over it all, even when things may appear differently. Furthermore, Christians can (and must) take the long view that tells us King Jesus is going to return, and at such time he will make his blessings flow as far as the curse is found. He will accomplish peace and justice on earth, and will put in reverse and ultimately eliminate everything done by self-seeking, morally compromised, injurious, and unjust leaders from every nation, tribe, and tongue. It will be what my friend and singer-songwriter, Jeremy Casella, calls “death in reverse.”
Second, when a more prophetic voice is called for, let’s speak truth to power (note the combination of both honor and prophetic, confrontational concern in David toward Saul in 1 Samuel 24:8-15) — in some cases even resisting and confronting policies and directives where conscience requires, especially where the unborn and born vulnerable are made more vulnerable and the voiceless are kept silent.
And yet, because of the office held by the man (or the woman, as the case may be), Christians especially must always do so with conviction mixed with dignity and honor. Daniel demonstrates this honoring posture with Babylon’s Nebuchadnezzar, for example, while also refusing to submit to the king’s idolatrous laws, at great cost to himself.
And there is of course Peter and Paul, who wrote that Christians should look for every opportunity to show honor to Rome’s self-serving, self-exalting, citizen exploiting Caesar, even as they refused to pledge ultimate allegiance (for only Jesus can rightly command such loyalty), which ended up costing them their lives.
According to Scripture, disciples of King Jesus must put all politicians in their proper place. Politicians are temporally noteworthy, yet ultimately beside the point. There is one King and Ruler, and his name is neither Obama nor Trump nor any other name that comes before or after these names. Jesus and Jesus alone is Orchestrator of history (His-Story), as we are reminded in the sacred text…
“[God] changes times and seasons;
he deposes kings and raises up others.”
“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God…Give to everyone what you owe them…if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” (Romans 13:1-7)
Many conservative and evangelical Christians, sadly, did not at all heed these biblical imperatives with the previous Obama administration. Perhaps we can learn from that mistake, so as not to repeat it, with the current and all future administrations.
Finally, wherever government may fall short of achieving truth, beauty and justice in the land — and this will always be the case until the Forever King (Jesus) returns to occupy his cosmic throne — let’s be the kinds people that our King has called us to be, regardless of who is in power. And if ever a government hands us lemons, let’s not be sour but instead seek to make lemonade. Let’s live as salt. And light. And a city on a hill that cannot be hidden. Let’s live as those who are filled, renewed, and sent by the Spirit into the world, that we may leave the world better than we found it. Let’s bring hope and relief and justice and belonging to the world in ways that government falls short. To whatever degree possible, let’s live toward making government increasingly unnecessary by the way we spend our lives for the love of God and the flourishing of every neighbor. Let’s live in such a way that if the light of Christ in us was suddenly removed from the places where we live, work, and play, the world would notice and be deeply sad about our absence. For as CS Lewis aptly said, those who end up doing the most good for the present world are the ones who think the most of the next. The citizens of Jesus and his kingdom, in other words, must seek to be the very best and most life-giving citizens of earthly kingdoms.
Now, without further adieu, I am pleased, with the author’s gracious permission, to share the following post-inaugural prayer (with meditation-worthy Scriptures cited throughout) created by my friend and Washington, DC pastor, Duke Kwon…
We pray on behalf of our nation this day, as Mr. Donald Trump is sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. Sovereign Lord, we “lift up our eyes to you, to you who sit enthroned in heaven” (Ps. 123:1).
We pray for our new President (1 Tim. 2:1-3). As he takes the Oath of Office, we pray he may do so with humility, a clear conscience, and due consideration of the weightiness of so solemn a responsibility (Jer. 4:2; Ps. 24:4). As President Trump begins the execution of the Office, we ask that you would bless him with “the fear of the Lord” — a reverent sense of dependency and accountability that would become a well-spring of wisdom (Prov. 9:10). Please protect the President from the many seductions of power: the will to “win” at all costs (Mk. 10:42-45), retaliation towards enemies (Rom. 12:17-21), exploitation of the weak (Prov. 22:22), failures of faithfulness to one’s covenant of marriage (Mal. 2:14). In particular, we ask that you would guard the President’s marriage. May his devotion to his wife Melania grow and flourish.
We ask that you would give the President the character and skill to lead our nation effectively. Restrain all foolishness and evil in the meditations of his heart, the words on his lips, and the work of his hands (2 Thess. 2:7; Eccl. 4:13; Matt. 15:18-19). Pour into his heart such virtues as prudence, compassion, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). Make him a lover of truth (Ps. 51:6). Grant him grace to repent of wrongdoing when needed (2 Tim. 2:25). We also ask that you surround the President with friends and advisors who are just and wise (Prov. 19:20).
Please direct and “channel” the President’s heart, guiding it according to your Word and will (Prov. 21:1). We pray that the policies of President Trump and his administration would promote human flourishing in our nation and around the world. We ask you to grant President Trump your justice and your righteousness (Ps. 72:1, 12-14). In the coming four years, please protect the most vulnerable and marginalized members of our nation, whether through this administration’s policies and priorities or in spite of them. Send your Spirit and pour out your loving-kindness upon the orphan (including the functionally parentless), the poor, the immigrant and the refugee, the unborn, the elderly, the racial minority (black and brown neighbors in particular), and many others who are too often diminished and forgotten (Deut. 27:19; Ps. 139:13-16; Prov. 14:31; Zech. 7:10; Jas. 1:27). Indeed, we are bold to ask, by your kind providence, that by the end of the term of this Presidency, our nation would be by certain measures more equitable, more compassionate, more humble, more generous, and more alive to your great grace. Jesus, could you please do this? Not because we are righteous or because we deserve it, but because of your mercy (Dan. 9:17-19).
We pray for ourselves, too. We ask that you would “inaugurate” in our hearts a readiness to offer whatever honor that is due to his Office (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:17) — not least, for those who are followers of Christ, by praying for the President with earnest petitions and appropriate thanksgiving (1 Tim. 2:1-3). Help us to remain zealous to do good (Gal. 6:9). Keep us vigilant against evil (Rom. 12:21; Gen. 4:7). Save us from both political triumphalism and apocalyptic despair. Sustain our hunger and thirst for righteousness and grace (Matt. 5:3-6).
And we continue to pray for our nation’s healing after a terribly divisive election. Yes, we pray for civic unity, particularly among Christians of divergent political persuasions (Jn. 17:20-21). But even more so, we ask for grace for the process by which unity is forged. We pray for truth-telling, charity, empathy, repentance, and mutual understanding. We pray not for a negative peace marked by an absence of tension or disagreement, but a positive peace marked by the presence of hope, equity, and a Godward regard for one another as fellow image-bearers. Heal us, O Emmanuel.
O Lord, on this Inauguration Day we place neither our ultimate trust nor our ultimate fears upon President Trump, a “mere mortal” whose heart is directed and re-directed by your sovereign will (Prov. 21:1; Isa. 40:23; Ps. 56:4; 146:3-4; Matt. 10:28). “Others besides you have ruled over us, but you alone do we worship” (Isa. 26:13). You are the King of the nations and the true Lord of history (Acts 17:26; Ps. 22:28; Isa. 40:21-24). Indeed, “you alone are God” (Ps. 86:10). So we gloat not; we despair not; we shrug not. King of kings, we place all our hope and trust in you.