Elections have consequences. Hope for, or fear of, certain outcomes motivated us to vote. Now, with the results still being contested, we speculate and fret over how our country, our states, our towns, and our lives will be affected.
Elections matter deeply to us. They matter to God, too – though not in the way we would expect. It is His eternal perspective, and not our finite ones, that we should adopt for processing this, and all, elections.
We know that God cares infinitely about each one of us, down to the hairs on our head. We also know that everything we do, no matter how small, has eternal consequences. “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me,” says the Lord. Votes and election outcomes have eternal consequences, therefore, because they shape the world into which God has sent us to do His will.
We err, however, if we imagine God sitting in heaven, rooting along with us for particular candidates. Through the gift of free will, God allows us to choose what we think is good for us; this includes, for citizens in republican governments, choosing the officials we think best to govern us. While we experience the consequences of our actions unfolding in real time, God, through our choices, is actively directing all His creatures to their designated ends. We call this divine activity God’s providence.
“Nothing merely ‘happens’ as far as God is concerned,” explains Father John Hardon, S.J. “Everything is meant to serve a purpose, mysteriously foreseen and foreordained by God.”
Election results are part of God’s providence, whether they are for good or for ill. Yet we ask: Surely God, who is all good, would want government officials that Catholics want – ones who honor God as our creator and the true source of their authority, who work to protect all human life from womb to tomb, who protect the family, and who foster the free exercise of religion without any fear of reprisal?
Yes, God desires these things. But in granting us free will, He allows us to arrive at the good not via Easy Street, but through the trials presented to us by a fallen world and by fallible creatures who too often make evil their good. In God’s providence, Easter glory only comes after Good Friday. And Easter glory is not about having things in this world turn out well; it is about eternal union with God in the life to come.
Hence all election results are God’s will for us, even if we think these results offend the very name of God. As part of His providential care, God sends us challenges and sufferings that are intended to lead us to our salvation, even if we cannot see why or how.
What, then, shall we do? “The present moment is the ambassador of God to declare His mandates,” counsels Father Jean Pierre de Caussade, and it is by fulfilling these mandates that we are sanctified. So our first task is to pray and to accept prayerfully the election outcome with willing recognition that this is what God wants for us now. We must remember, in Caussade’s words, “all that happens to me will be food for my nourishment, water for my cleansing, fire for my purification, and a channel of grace for all my needs.”
Second, through this prayer, we must discern how God wants each of us to engage the present moment. Some may wish to participate in local affairs. Others may feel a call for more prayer and penance. Still others will double down with the three truths that form healthy souls and, by extension, healthy societies: faith, hope, love.
Third, we must remember that, since our Lord left the earth, God has sent political regimes to try His faithful ones, as gold in a furnace. From ancient Rome, to Northern Africa in the Middle Ages, to Protestant England, to the insidious regimes of Hitler and Stalin, to the Middle East and China today, Catholics have faced the cruelest forms of discrimination, torture, and death at the hands of political regimes. This is not an alarmist or apocalyptic prognostication of things to come in these United States. It is a sobering reminder that happy endings have never been guaranteed for believers in the political and social arena.
Lastly, though we can never fully understand His ways, God permits evil only to bring a greater good out of it. Only in God’s Providence can we call Adam’s sin a “happy fault” (felix culpa). The evil St. Thomas More suffered, to name but one famous political death, has been a great force for good for nearly 500 years. Before his death, More told his daughter, “Nothing can come but that that God wills. And I make me very sure that whatsoever that be, seem it never so bad in sight, it shall indeed be the best.”
This is the outlook of those who trust in God’s Providence. As we go forward, our solace rests not in political victory, but in the words of Jesus Himself to those in danger, in doubt, and in despair: “[D]o not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. . . .[E]very one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 10:28, 32-33)
*Image: Sir Thomas More and his Daughter by John Rogers Herbert, 1844 [The TATE, London]