This is the seventh in a series of posts – Chapter One, Part Two – from my book, With Christ in the Voting Booth:

“He removeth kings, and setteth up kings” (Dan. 2:21).

Reformer John Calvin

John Calvin’s theology had an enormous influence on Western thought and the views of some of the founders of our nation.

He addressed this passage in Daniel and spoke specifically of God setting up kings:

We naturally fancy that they acquire their power by their own talents, or by hereditary right, or by fortuitous accident. Meanwhile, all thought of God is excluded when the industry, or valor, or success, or any other quality of man is extolled! Hence it is said in the Psalms, neither from the east nor the west, but God alone is the judge (Ps. 75:6f). The Prophet there derides the discourses of those who call themselves Wise, and who gather up reasons from all sides to show how power is assigned to man, by either his own counsel and valor, or by good fortune, or other human and inferior instruments. Look round, says he, wherever you please, from the rising to the setting of the sun, and you will find no reason why one man becomes lord of his fellow-creatures rather than another.

We should not presume to know who Jesus would vote for[1], but I can tell you with 100% certainty who God wanted to be president after the 1980 elections. It was Ronald Reagan. He even gave the Gipper another four more years, just like he did Richard Nixon (well, actually God gave Nixon only about two more years). Bill Clinton got a full eight, but it seemed to be touch and go there for a while.

If it is true that God picks our presidents, couldn’t God just pick one without us even voting on him? In fact, He did just that very thing, once. On August 9th, 1974, Gerald Ford was installed as our 38th president having never received a single vote as a presidential or vice-presidential candidate. While serving as minority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, Ford was appointed vice-president after Richard Nixon’s VP, Spiro Agnew, resigned under federal investigation for tax evasion. When Nixon subsequently resigned during the Watergate scandal, Ford became president.

President Ford, himself, seemed to recognize his dependency on God when during his first speech in office he stated that

I am acutely aware that you have not elected me as your president by your ballots, and so I ask you to confirm me as your president with your prayers. And I hope that such prayers will also be the first of many.[2]

After two years, when the voters finally did have an opportunity to vote on Ford, they voted him out. So did the people thwart the will of God by voting in Jimmy Carter, instead of God’s pick, Gerald Ford? No, they did not. It was God who raised up Ford and put him down again. He also lifted up Carter in 1976 and set him aside in 1980. And so it was with our first 44 presidents. And so it will be for the 45th, and so on, as long as the Republic lasts.

The idea that God sets up kings (and presidents) and takes them down again is not new with me, nor limited to the one passage above. It is a truth that is dispersed throughout the whole Bible. Before we look at some more examples from both Scripture and history, I must address an objection that might immediately come to mind: “If God picks our presidents, why even vote?”

This challenge is similar to the one offered to Calvinists who believe God chooses who He is going to save. Why, these objectors ask, pray for the lost or even preach[3] if God determines who is going to get saved?

J.I. Packer, however, argued

You acknowledge that God is sovereign in salvation. You pray for the conversion of others. In what terms, now, do you intercede for them? Do you limit yourself to asking that God will bring them to a point where they can save themselves, independently of Him? I do not think you do. I think that what you do is to pray in categorical terms that God will, quite simply and decisively, save them: that He will open the eyes of their understanding, soften their hard hearts, renew their natures, and move their wills to receive the Saviour. You ask God to work in them everything necessary for their salvation. You would not dream of making it a point in your prayer that you are not asking God actually to bring them to faith, because you recognize that that is something He cannot do. Nothing of the sort! When you pray for unconverted people, you do so on the assumption that it is in God’s power to bring them to faith.[4]

In other words, Packer changes “Why pray if God does the saving?” to “Why even pray if God doesn’t do the saving?” Prayer is part of the means God may use to save someone. In the same way, we pray and vote because God is sovereign in determining our leaders and lets us have a part in choosing our presidents. Usually the guy with the most votes becomes President, though not always. In 2000, Al Gore got more votes than George W. Bush but he still didn’t become president. Is it because the U.S. Supreme Court stole the election on behalf of Bush? No. Although there was a dispute over the ballots and votes in Florida, [5]  the essential reason Gore lost was because the founders of this country decided to award the presidency to whoever wins the electoral vote (which is determined by a tally of electors chosen in a state-by-state, winner-take-all system[6]) rather than the popular vote. From the uproar the decision caused in 2000, one might think this had never happened before. But much to the chagrin of Gore supporters, it had actually happened two other times in U.S. history. First, when Rutherford B. Hayes was elected in 1876 and second, when Benjamin Harrison was elected in 1888.[7]  Speaking of President Harrison, another time the will of the people was thwarted was when President William Henry Harrison died in office only one month after his inauguration. A common cold turned into pneumonia and Vice-President John Tyler became the new president, though his detractors called him “His Accidency” [8]

In light of God’s sovereignty, we might be tempted to just sit back and wait to see what happens. However, let us return to the simple fact that God often uses the actions of people to accomplish His will in choosing their civil leaders (Jdg. 9:6). Christians should not believe their actions are without consequences. God can use his obedient people to change history. Joseph rescued Egypt from famine by his God-given wisdom and purity. The actions of Hebrew mid-wives not only saved many Israelite babies, but saved Moses, who himself would be used by God to lead the Israelites out of the slavery of Egypt. The lesson here is not “don’t do anything.” It is trust God, and then do what is right. God can send slimepits (Gen. 14:10), insanity (Dan. 4:30-32, 5:21) or worms (Acts 12:21-23) to humble rulers when they fail to acknowledge that He is sovereign, or He can send voters to raise up whomever He wills to be president. Here are some relevant passages:

And the vale of Siddim was full of slimepits; and the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, and fell there; and they that remained fled to the mountain. Genesis 14:10

The king spake, and said, Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty? While the word was in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken; The kingdom is departed from thee. And they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field: they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and seven times shall pass over thee, until thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will. Daniel 4:30-32

And he was driven from the sons of men; and his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild asses: they fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven; till he knew that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and that he appointeth over it whomsoever he will. Daniel 5:21

And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them. And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man. And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost. Acts 12:21-23 Our campaigning may be the means he will use to bring about His will; nevertheless, God commands us to pray for our leaders. I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. I Timothy 2:1-2

How we fret and agitate, vote and campaign, call our congressmen and petition for redress, but oh(!) that we would only pray to live a quiet and peaceable life. Because He is both sovereign over kings and gracious, He hears and answers such a prayer. Hear this and be hopeful: “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will” (Prov. 21:1). And for the Christian, we have the added promise “that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 8:28).


[1] D. James Kennedy wrote “So can anyone be so bold as to say how Jesus would vote? I think the answer is yes.” How Would Jesus Vote? A Christian Perspective on the Issues by D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe (2008) Waterbrook: Colorado Springs, p. 81

See also W. H. Carney (2006) How Would Jesus Vote? A Biblical Perspective on Today’s Hot Political Issues, Creation House.

[2] http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/geraldfordpresidentialoath.html

[3] We preach and share Jesus because we are commanded to. I believe that no such explicit command exists to vote, though there may be some compelling reasons we should.

[4] Packer, J.I., Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, 1961, Inter-Varsity Press: Downers Grove, p. 21

[5] Attorney for the Landmark Foundation, Mark Levin (who thought Bush v. Gore was decidedly wrong and wrongly decided) makes a convincing case that Bush would have won under every conceivable scenario even if the Supreme Court had sided with Vice-President Al Gore in Bush v Gore. See Men in Black: How the Supreme Court is Destroying America (2005) Regnery: Washington DC, pp. 170-173

[6] “There are 48 states that have a winner-takes-all rule for the Electoral College. In these states, whichever candidate receives a majority of the vote, or a plurality of the popular vote (less than 50 percent but more than any other candidate) takes all of the state’s electoral votes. Only two states, Nebraska and Maine, do not follow the winner-takes-all rule.” http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/faq.html#takeall

 

 

3 comments
  1. This is always an interesting topic.  With our limited perception in this life, I think God’s hand in removing kings and setting them up will always be–at least to some degree–a mystery to us, just like other mysteries out there, such as “the mystery of iniquity.”  In so many things, we definitely “see through a glass, darkly.” 

    In the end, if we’re going to vote, I don’t think that we should, as you put it, “fret and agitate.”  And ultimately, it’s far more important to pray about the election than it is to vote.  Why?   Because when you vote, only 1 vote is at stake–yours.  However, when you pray, you have the ability to influence hundreds, thousands, or perhaps even more, votes!  So, I think we should place most of our focus on praying about the upcoming election, and then, if we feel led to vote, to vote our consciences and leave the outcome to God.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, SJ. I agree.  As in most other things, we must respond to the revealed will of God (His laws, His wisdom) and leave the hidden will to God Himself. We do not vote based upon what we think God is going to do, but on what He has commanded us to do.

      1. No problem, David. 

        As in most other things, we must respond to the revealed will of God (His laws, His wisdom) and leave the hidden will to God Himself. We do not vote based upon what we think God is going to do, but on what He has commanded us to do.

        I haven’t heard it spelled out like that before, but it makes a lot of sense.

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