There are several things that we know about the winner of the 2020 presidential election. Regardless of whether you voted for him—or whether you voted at all—there are some biblical truths that apply to all of our elected political leaders. Keeping these truths in mind can help Christians respond to this year’s election in a way that glorifies God. Here are five things to know about the president …
- He has been instituted by God.
This should not be surprising. After all, it’s copied and pasted straight from Romans 13:1: “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” All those who serve in positions of authority have been put there by God. However, the fact that God institutes such people does not mean that he approves of everything they do.
The character, actions, and policies of political leaders may run counter to God’s revealed will in Scripture. Nevertheless, in God’s providence and for his own good and wise purposes, he has chosen to give some men and women a certain level of authority at a particular time and place in history. That’s why we are told to submit to and honor them—not because they are perfect or even particularly virtuous but because they are instituted by God (Romans 13:1–8; 1 Peter 2:13–17).
- His heart is under God’s sovereign control.
When earthly rulers make decisions and promote policies that we disagree with, it can seem as if they are operating outside of God’s control. But Proverbs 21:1 reminds us that the God who sovereignly appoints rulers continues to be sovereign over the decisions they make: “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.” As the One who possesses all power and knowledge, God is perfectly capable of changing a ruler’s intentions.
God’s sovereign control over rulers does not mean that he is responsible for their sins or the evil that they carry out, but it should motivate us to pray for them. God is able to turn their hearts to lead with justice and mercy. And when they do make decisions that run contrary to Scripture, we can still be confident that God’s purposes will not be thwarted (Daniel 4:34–35). Even the decisions of pagan rulers are used to put God’s saving power on display (Exodus 7–15; Ezra 7:21; Isaiah 10:6–7; 45:1–7).
- He is human and finite.
The temptation to find security in earthly rulers has been a constant temptation for God’s people. Israel initially wanted a king like all the other nations, but Saul was ultimately a failure (1 Samuel 8). Even in a representative democracy like ours, Christians can make the mistake of looking to a president or a political administration for ultimate security, provision, and happiness. Seeing our leaders as messiah figures is not only dishonoring to the true Messiah but inevitably disappointing and foolish. No earthly leader can meet our greatest needs, nor can they right all wrongs. Proverbs 29:26 reminds us, “Many seek the face of a ruler, but it is from the Lord that a man gets justice.”
We would do well to have our political expectations chastened. Our elected officials may have some unique gifts and abilities, and they may do much that is good and right, but they remain limited, finite, and fallen. Even for the most virtuous leaders, including those who are Christians, sin clouds their judgment and affects their decision-making. It’s not wrong to have certain standards for them, but we shouldn’t expect them to give us what only God can provide. “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation” (Psalm 146:3).
- He will give an account to God.
While there are times to be concerned, and even righteously angry, about the decisions and policies of presidents, Christians should not respond with (sinful) anger or despair. Even in our efforts to bring about change, we should not expect perfect justice to be carried out in this life.
Like everyone else, the president will give an account to God on the last day (Romans 2:6–11; 2 Corinthians 5:10). His works and words will be judged, and the consequences of his policies will be weighed with perfect justice. In some cases, we may see that we were wrong. In other cases, we may see that the injustice was even greater than we thought. Either way, the answer to Abraham’s rhetorical question—“Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18:25)—is an emphatic yes.
- He needs the Lord.
Because presidents are finite (see #3 above), they need the Lord’s help in a multitude of ways. They need courage to do what is right, even when it’s not in their political interest. They need discernment to make difficult decisions; they need wisdom to see what will best serve the good of all people, including the poor and the vulnerable. In short, they need the Lord—which means they also need our prayers.
Just as we are in need of grace, mercy, and strength on a daily basis, so also the president needs these things. We ought to pray that the Lord would save him, give him grace to lead, and bless his leadership for the good of the church, our neighbors, and the world (1 Timothy 2:1–4). He may be powerful and influential in an earthly sense, but with respect to the Lord, he is needy.