James A. Garfield was a 33-year old freshman congressman when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. …Over the years, a story emerged about Garfield’s actions in New York after learning of Lincoln’s death. Like so many other places across the North, New York City was in chaos after the news of the President’s murder began to spread. Anger, sadness, and fear gripped many of the city’s residents as suspicions of a conspiracy and the expectation of more killings ran rampant. Supposedly, a mob of some 50,000 people filled Wall Street and screamed for the heads of southern sympathizers. As the story goes, the crowd had just resolved to destroy the offices of The World, a Democratic newspaper, when a single figure appeared above them on a balcony and began to speak – “Fellow citizens! Clouds and darkness are round about Him! His pavilion is dark waters and thick clouds of the skies! Justice and judgment are the establishment of His throne! Mercy and truth shall go before His face! Fellow citizens! God reigns, and the Government at Washington still lives!” These are the words supposedly spoken that day by Congressman James A. Garfield. A supposed eyewitness to this event reported “The effect was tremendous,” and that Garfield’s words brought calm to the crowd (and saved The World’s office from destruction, one assumes). This witness then turned to someone close to ask who the speaker was, and was told, “It is General Garfield of Ohio!” …This story became famous and, as historian Allan Peskin relates, “an enduring aspect of the Garfield mythology.” Regularly re-told by newspapers under the heading “Garfield Stills the Mob,” it was widely circulated in Garfield’s later political campaigns, including his 1880 run for the presidency. Sadly and ironically, it was also regularly mentioned in memorial pieces after Garfield was, like Lincoln, murdered by an assassin.
I just love this story about James A. Garfield, apocryphal or not. Remember, he is a “Brother” President, one of the three Presidents of the United States with a direct “Disciples” connection. Garfield was actually a preacher in our churches as well as the President of one of our church-related colleges in Ohio before his election to political office. Lyndon Baines Johnson was a lifelong member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and his Washington D.C. funeral was actually conducted at the National City Christian Church, a church that was begun in James Garfield’s home when he was a Congressman. And Ronald Reagan was raised a Disciple, went to one of our church-related colleges in Illinois, and held membership in a Southern California Disciples congregation for many years.
This week the United States will elect our next President. Depending on your politics, this will either be a week of great rejoicing for you, or a week of deep distress. You are either going to feel like the Kingdom of God has come, or else that the world is about to end. Either way, I’d advise you to tap the brakes.
The next four years are neither going to be as good as you imagine, nor as bad as you fear.
Remember, the United States survived both the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, one of America’s best Presidents, and the impeachment of Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s immediate successor, and one of America’s worst Presidents. I certainly hope our next President is more a Lincoln than a Johnson, but either way, I have every confidence that the Government in Washington will live because God reigns.
This was Max Lucado’s point in a recent post. He wrote –
I have a prediction. I know exactly what November 9 will bring. Another day of God’s perfect sovereignty. He will still be in charge. His throne will still be occupied. He will still manage the affairs of the world. Never before has His providence depended on a king, president, or ruler. And it won’t on November 9, 2016. (https://maxlucado.com/prediction-november-9/)
God’s sovereignty refers to God’s will and how it actually gets done in the vagaries of human history. Leslie Weatherhead’s three categories in his classic 1944 book The Will of God have long proven to be useful in my thinking on this matter –
God’s Intentional Will – This is God’s ideal purpose, what God intends for us and our temporal well-being in any given moment.
God’s Circumstantial Will – This is what God actually does when our free choices set up circumstances that are contrary to God’s ideal purpose for us. Rather than giving up on us, God finds the best way to cooperate with us in those circumstances to continue to advance His good purposes.
God’s Ultimate Will – This is God’s final goal. It is the same goal as would have been reached if God’s intentional will would have not been frustrated by our free choices, and it is the goal that will finally be achieved because God and His purposes cannot be finally defeated.
What these careful distinctions in the will of God try to hold in balance is the mystery of how God can ultimately be in charge of the universe while human beings still remain truly free. Someone has said that Weatherhead’s answer turns God into a kind of master chess player who is in a game with a rank amateur. The amateur freely moves his pieces on the board just as he chooses, but the master knows what the amateur is doing, and he is always thinking seven and eight moves ahead of him. The master sees the whole board all the time, and he knows how he will be able to turn every move that the amateur makes to his own advantage. And so, while I don’t believe that God has a candidate in this or any election — that’s our “move” — I do believe that God has a purpose for the whole world that He will finally bring about regardless of who wins the election.
It was the Protestant Reformer who observed that “God can ride the lame horse and carve the rotten wood.” And in his reflection on what will happen on November 9th, Max Lucado cited Proverbs 21:1 – “The LORD can control a king’s mind as he controls a river; he can direct it as he pleases.” All of which is to say that no matter who gets elected President this week, God is still going to be God, and His will — His Ultimate Will — is going to get done no matter how poorly or wisely we vote, and no matter how nobly or ignobly the one who gets elected governs. Oh, we can certainly make things harder than they need to be. History is proof of that. God’s Intentional Will can be, and often is, frustrated by the poor choices we make. But in those less-than-ideal-circumstances that our free choices create, I believe that God still finds a way, just like a master chess player, to cooperate with us where we are, and to advance the accomplishment of His will on earth as it is in heaven.
There have been 11 men elected President of the United States in my 63 years of life – 6 Republicans and 5 Democrats. Counting this one, I have now voted in 12 Presidential elections. The candidates I have voted for have won 6 times, lost 5 times, and we’ll see what happens this year. Without exception, the Presidents I have voted for have pleased me, and they have disappointed me, just as the Presidents I haven’t vote for have pleased me, and they have disappointed me as well.
King David’s last words were a reflection on Rulers –
“When one rules over people in righteousness, when he rules in the fear of God, he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings grass from the earth” (2 Samuel 23:3-4).
This is what I want for every President of the United States, the ones I vote for and the ones I don’t. I want them all to be “like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings grass from the earth.” And the fact is that sometimes they have been, and sometimes they haven’t — all of them, the Republicans and the Democrats, the ones I voted for and the ones I didn’t. And my hope for #12 is that s/he will be, even though I already know that sometimes s/he will be, and sometimes s/he won’t.
And so, while I expect to be pleased sometimes, and disappointed at other times during the next four years by whoever gets elected President next this week, my faith is not in him or her, but in the God who never disappoints (James 1:17), which is why, with my “Brother” President, #20, James A. Garfield, I will wake up on the morning of November the 9th, and know that whoever has been elected President #45, that –
“Clouds and darkness are round about Him! His pavilion is dark waters and thick clouds of the skies! Justice and judgment are the establishment of His throne! Mercy and truth shall go before His face! Fellow citizens! God reigns, and the Government at Washington still lives!”