It’s inauguration day in the States and Joe Biden will officially succeed Donald Trump as US President around about 5pm GMT. I usually like to watch the US election result and the inauguration just as I like to stay up for General Election night here. It’s probably the closest our friends across the pond get to pageantry and to be fair they do a good job of putting on a show. Furthermore, this matters even for those of us not involved in the election. Biden becomes the most powerful man and de-facto leader of the Free World. For good or ill, his decisions, words and actions will affect life here and around the world.
The last Inauguration was in George W Bush’s opinion pretty weird so maybe we were warmed up for the strangeness of this one. COVID will restrict the pageantry of the occasion but there is a further threat hanging in the air following last week’s violence at The Capitol. Then there’s Donald Trump’s behaviour. Apparently, he will be holding his own farewell event at St Andrew’s airbase. Today’s non-story is that Mike Pence will not be joining him there. That’s obvious. The Vice President will be attending the inauguration which provides its own very emotional opportunity for the President to say farewell as he and his wife should have waked down the steps to be waved off in Marine One by the new president. The Vice President will be at the event that Donald Trump should also be at.
Indeed my personal opinion is that it is this kind of behaviour that made it necessary for Trumpt to be removed from office and for impeachment to go ahead. The inauguration makes clear not only that the new head of state is in place but that the old one has gone. Here in the UK we would do this via a State Funeral followed by a coronation. In effect it risks the US being in a two popes position with the potential for some to keep their allegiance with Trump.
This brings me to the main point of this article. There are some who seem to be struggling with having their loyalty to President Trump broken. They cannot transfer allegiance to the new guy and this seems to revolve around the belief that Donald Trump was God’s man, God’s appointee. What is behind that is that for all of his flaws, the President has done things seen as positive including seeking to restrict abortions, support the legal definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman and acting to protect Christians from persecution around the world. Whilst we are looking for the positives we might also add the bilateral moves with North Korea to bring about peace and the number of Middle East countries that have sued for peace with Israel under his watchful eye. It is arguable that any other president would have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for such efforts and accomplishments. It is indeed possible to acknowledge that he accomplished some things without lauding him as a great president, approving of his character or agreeing with his agenda. He is not an angel but nor is he a monster, he is a human being.
But sticking with the question “Did God appoint Trump? Is he the Lord’s man in the Whitehouse?” I note this article by Malcolm Duncan where he responds by saying that God did not appoint the president but he did permit the appointment. I agree with the spirit of Duncan’s response but I don’t find it satisfactory.
Duncan’s response falls foul of the same trap that any attempt to get God off the hook for something falls into whenever it relies on the claim that God somehow isn’t responsible for the events. If God truly is sovereign then we cannot really distance him. In fact it makes things look worse. God is both complicit in allowing something but not fully in control.
I think it is better to say this. That yes, God did predestine and therefore appoint President Trump but that we cannot assume that this was for the purposes we would identify. What if he appointed the President to bring about America’s humbling? What if he appointed this man specifically to teach us not to trust in wealth and power? What if we say with Joseph that there may have been people who sought his election for wicked and ungodly reasons but what evil men intended for harm, God intended for good and his glory? The same must apply to Joe Biden now. Yes, Biden is God’s man appointed as “God’s servant for good.” (Romans 13:4). We know that not because some big name international Bible teacher has a good feeling about his or because some whacky prophet claims a word from the Lord. We know it because Joe Biden is the president, because God has ordained circumstances in order to bring him to power.
We also know God’s declared purpose in appointing Joe Biden. He is there to ensure that the law is upheld and justice done (Romans 13:1-7). What we don’t know yet is if God has other plans and purposes. Will the President be used to bring about peace, will he bring benefits to the poor? Or will his presidency force people to think again about their trust in politicians. Actually, even if he does bring peace and prosperity, even if overall his presidency turns out to be a good thing, I can pretty much guarantee that discerning hearts and minds will learn the latter.
This frees us up to get on with our day to day lives, trusting our circumstances to God’s sovereign care. We don’t need to second guess whether the President in the Whitehouse or the Prime Minister in Downing Street is a good guy, whether they are God’s guy. We know that we are to pray for them and to submit to them within the law. We also know that submission does not require support. We can choose to disagree, to challenge to protest. Finally, we know that when they command things that go against God’s Word that we must put what God says first. This gives us a lot more freedom.
So today I will pray for Presidents Trump and Biden. I will pray for both men that they will put their trust in the Lord. I will pray for President Trump that he will be reconciled to his retirement from public life. I will pray for President Biden that he will seek to do things in God’s way and that his presidency will be positive and fruitful, that he will use the power he is about to wield for good.