Maybe I read too much fantasy as a teenager, but my tendency is to make epics out of everything. Calamities are more interesting than your run-of-the-mill conundrums. The apocalypse is more exciting than roadblocks. Revolutions are far more seductive than diplomacy.
Seeing the strangely tragic rise of Donald Trump and his disquieting election to the highest political position on the planet has been easy to view like a poorly written dystopian screenplay. My gut reaction is to see this election eschatologically—that the American experiment is over, democracy has been replaced with despotism, and revolution or nuclear war are the only possible outcomes.
Such is the impulse of our age. In a political epoch in which the populous gravitates toward distant poles instead of a diplomatic balance, writing off the 2016 election as a zero-sum game—as the birth of a new era and the demise of the old—is the soup of the day.
The bent toward extremity and superlative—impossible highs or irreducible lows—is an easy temptation. Perhaps it’s because I like to write fiction, but darkness is easy for me to imagine. Especially in the aftermath of the vote.
That’s why we want to protest. That’s why we talk about how to proceed with basic words like survival and good and evil. Every president in my lifetime has been called the antichrist.
None of them have been.
Donald Trump will not be either.
Over the last week, especially those first few days, when I think about the outcome of the election, I want to be angry more than I’m willing to be sad. I want to see this as black and white. There is something inspiring about protests, even when you disagree with them. There is something physically exciting about uprising, about feet on pavement and fists in the air.
But pitchforks are never lucid.
Reasonability and a lifetime of Sunday school (and President Obama) tell me to root for Trump, to want the best for him even as I think of the lack in his policies, to give him a chance. I want to write for revolution, but the gospel tells me to practice peace and hope.
And now I come to my main dilemma from this past week. What does it mean to be hopeful today?
We know our ultimate and eschatological hope is in Christ and his restoration of all things. That is not in dispute. This fundamental Christian hope was never meant to be reasonable in the eyes of the world! But what is our hope in the shorter term? We have always had hope in God and the Kingdom, but we can also have hopes not in the earth, but for it—for our families, our struggles, our quaking republics.
I wrote last week that my hope is in the gospel. What it did and does and will do. My hope is still there, now and forever.
But there is hope not only for tomorrow, but for today.
Here are bright spots of hope—hope we can hold yet here in the present country, before the full attainment of the kingdom.
First, take hope in the common grace given to the people. So many Americans—Red and Blue—want good things. We may disagree on how to get there, but many genuinely want the best for each other. I am persuaded that the majority of people on both sides of the aisle are not as bad as the worst elements of their ideological kin. This is true by definition. Trump’s coldest rhetoric and ugliest lies are not the final representation of the hearts of the people who voted for him. Clinton’s biggest mistakes are not reflective of the consciences of her followers. People are nearly always better than their caricatures and are never as simple as their most quotable lines.
It is not enough, of course, to say, “They are not as bad as they could be.” What credit is that to anyone? But even today, after what was once unimaginable has come to pass, I am hopeful that people can be better than we imagined.
Second, take hope in this moment of change. I’ve never seen my friends so politically or socially awake. I’m hopeful that even if systems become bleaker toward refugees, the poor, and minorities, more Americans than ever will recognize the urgent necessity of coming to their sides. This was a brutal shock to the system, but a shock is sometimes a cure.
Third, take hope in the practical realities of our country and its government, inadequate as it is. A) Trump did not win the popular vote. B) Institutions will not save us, but our constitution, judiciary, free press, vocal opposition, and checks and balances from many bodies and both major parties will, if they can be maintained, reign in the worst of our fears. C) In the shadow of bitter national breakdowns and intra-party divisions, the parties and their constituents will incline more toward unity and the grassroots will revitalize.
Fourth, to hope Christianly may in fact mean resistance. The Word tells us to resist evil. It tells us our struggle is not with flesh and blood, but with the powers and principalities.
How do we resist? How do we struggle?
Certainly in prayer, peace, witness, truth-telling, courage, commitment, forgiveness, and all the rest. In salting and lighting the world. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
And sometimes that means nonviolent resistance. That may very well translate into actual, in-the-streets protest. It means standing up when others would sit down, and speaking out when weaker voices feel censored. Undoubtedly it also means adhering first to the rule of God, even and especially when that conflicts with the rule of mortal men.
Respect rulers and pray for authorities. Honor creation and its stewards.
But remember: Resistance, too, can be Christian. That is our act of hope. That is the manifestation of our belief in redemption, reconciliation, shalom.
Onward, and wield the wild hope.