Why the Election Cycle Brings Out the Worst in Me, and How the Book of Daniel Can Help.

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Everyone’s favorite season as an American is just around the corner, election season. It is a time of honoring those who vote differently from us, of charitable listening, of assuming the best of those who disagree with us. Oh wait, no … it’s usually the opposite of all of those things, at least for me it is. Throughout my life the election cycle has been a season of name calling, anger, anxiety, gossip, vitriol, aggression, division, confusion, and, to call it as it is, hatefulness. It is a time where we celebrate failure, malformed character, and hypocrisy. A season where I am not so much looking for truth as I am for a version of the truth I can spin to fit my agenda. I am a Christian, a person who has devoted my life to the gracious, generous, and just way of Jesus. And yet, every election cycle I fall into the least gracious and Christ-like version of myself. And, I’m willing to bet either you yourself or someone you know does to.

I am determined to represent Jesus better this time around. I’m determined to let my speech and cadence carry the aroma of fidelity to the Kingdom of God. But, if I want to do that, I have to ask myself a very important question: why does the election cycle bring out the worst in me? After some self-reflection and prayer, here’s what I discovered …

In every election season the stakes of what it means to be an American are raised to insurmountable heights. We have vicious media shoved into our face with campaign adds, propaganda, and a barrage of content from both sides of the aisle determined to paint their opponent in as unfavorable of a light as possible. Usually this looks like making one tribe look like the best great hope for America, and making the other tribe look like the thing that might finally be the collapse of human civilization. And every four years we gobble it up like starving sheep. As a follower of Jesus, I carry the responsibility of demonstrating the heavenly reality in this life, while carrying a hope anchored on the other side of life. This responsibility should keep me rooted, level headed, discerning, and not so easily given into the rhetoric of the political figures around me. So, why do I get suckered into the trap again, and again? Here’s the startling and uncomfortable truth: in the past, I let my allegiance to the kingdom of this world trump my allegiance to the Kingdom of God. Any time I am placing my hope in a political candidate, party, or man-made movement I am laying down my allegiance to God and bowing to an idol.

The book of Daniel is one of the most relevant and insightful books in the Bible for our day. The book is designed with the first six chapters following a narrative structure, telling the story of Daniel and his friends as they live the in the subversive way of faithful exiles. It has iconic stories like the King mandating Daniel and his friends they eat and drink like Babylonians. For us in our day this may not seem like a big deal, but here’s what was actually happening in that story: they were being required to surrender their allegiance to YHWH and the customs of Israel to take up the ways of Babylon. How did they respond? Did they violently or politically revolt? Did they acquiesce to the ways of their new culture? No, they opted for a strategic third option: they took up the way of exile. They were to maintain their Jewish identities while seeking the good of the land they were exiled to. This story, the story of the fiery furnace, and the story of Daniel in the lion’s den all carry this message.

The second half of the book has a series of visions from Daniel featuring beasts and other apocalyptic themes. The meaning of these visions of confounded scholars for centuries. One interpretation sees this as a clear reference to the Syrian king Antiochus in the 160’s BC, who slaughtered Jews and erected idols in their temples. Another sees this to represent the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Yet, another interpretation sees these visions to symbolize events to happen at Christ’s return. The problem is, as The Bible Project points out, none of the symbols and numbers line up with any of these interpretations perfectly. However, this does open up the possibility that in a sense they are all right.

The book of Daniel offers hope to all future generations of God’s people. This is why Jesus could use imagery from Daniel to describe Jerusalem’s oppressive ruler. It’s also why John the Revelator (author of Revelation) adapted Daniel to describe Rome and all future oppressive empires.

Now, why does this matter? Daniel is painting a picture for the people of God. The Bible Project sums up the point of the book of Daniel like this: in Daniel, all generations of Gods people can find a pattern and a promise. The pattern is that human beings and their kingdoms inevitably become greedy and violent beasts when they redefine right and wrong for themselves and don’t follow the way of God’s Kingdom. The promise is that someday God will confront the beast that is human empire by rescuing his world and ruling justly.

Daniel is a book that speaks a message of hope to motivate faithfulness. What does hope in YHWH look like? Well, if we are to learn from Daniel it certainly does not look like vitriolic Facebook posts, bombastic insults, or the mistreatment of people because of how they vote, that behavior is reserved for people whose only hope is in what can be done by human means. Christian hope is a hope that contends that one day God will come and set all the wrongs to right, wipe the tears of those who mourn and are oppressed, and rule the earth in the justice oriented, peaceable, generous way of God.

What does faithfulness look like? It is the way of exile. It is recognizing that God has given his people the assignment of revealing the ways of heaven through our beloved communities. In Jeremiah 29:7 the prophet offers instruction from God to those exiled to Babylon, instructions clearly obeyed by Daniel and his friends. It reads, “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to YHWH on its behalf, for in its welfare will you find your welfare.”

Why do we get so worked up during the election cycle? It is because many of these issues are extremely important. They affect human life and flourishing. The issues matter. But the solution to these issues will not be found in the right candidate or the right party. They are found in whole-hearted discipleship to our Messiah, Jesus Christ. So, vote your conscious. Voting can be a great way to seek the welfare of the land we have been exiled to. But if you are a Christian, before you are an American or a patriot, you are citizen of Heaven living in exile to this land. We are to seek the good of the land, but we must never surrender the customs of our heavenly Kingdom to do so.