Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry. (Psalm 146:5-7)
It’s reassuring to start another week of crisis with the reminder that “The Lord will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations” (v 10) — including generations that have lived through pandemics worse than COVID-19. And so I pray that I will praise that “Lord as long as I live… all my life long” (v 2) — even if that verse feels more like an uncomfortable reminder of mortality right now than a pledge of piety.
But chiefly, I heard today’s psalm as a warning about the dangers of spending too little time with God and too much time with other authorities. Despite the warning of verse 3, it’s all too easy for humans to “put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.”
Clearly, that doesn’t mean that it’s unimportant that we have mortal leaders who are trustworthy. Such authorities are fallible, but I’ve admired how governors and mayors — Democrats and Republicans — have responded decisively, transparently, and soberly to the spread of the coronavirus. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Mike Pence, but I think the vice president is trying to do his difficult job well. And I have nothing but respect for public health professionals like Dr. Anthony Fauci; even when he delivers alarming news or ominous warnings, I feel calmer about everything. For that matter, I think my bosses at Bethel have done as well as they could in this situation, and I trust them to continue to lead prudently in the difficult months to come.
But I can’t say I feel that way about our president, who took far too long to acknowledge the seriousness of the pandemic, still can’t give a press conference without attacking a reporter or making a snide remark about a political rival, and has done nothing in three years to earn the trust of a public already cynical about politicians using their offices for personal gain.
And yet 49% of white evangelicals are very confident (and 28% somewhat so) that Donald Trump is doing a good job responding to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. That’s more than double the national average — and over 5 times the same figure for our African American Protestant brethren.
I know some of you are now objecting that I’m politicizing a devotional meant to focus on life with God. And, in turning to such matters, I expect that today’s post will be unlike others in this series.
But if our God “executes justice for the oppressed” (v 7) and “lifts up those who are bowed down” (v 8), then being in relationship with him should make us more politically engaged, not less. That doesn’t mean knee-jerk partisan politics — I hope that I’d be as critical of a Democratic president acting like Trump in a similar circumstance, and I’ll still praise George W. Bush’s response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa. But it does mean that we are obligated to act in ways that mirror God’s concern (v 7) for the hungry, the imprisoned, and others who are easily neglected by the powers of this world. I think it’s reasonable to extend the same principle to the politics of a pandemic, which particularly endangers the elderly, the chronically ill, the poor and unemployed, and others without reliable access to health care.
And yet 76% of white evangelicals think the news media have exaggerated the risks of an outbreak whose best-case scenario, according to epidemiologists, is still sobering. They are far more confident in the assessments they hear from Donald Trump, who spent two months consistently minimizing the dangers and still has to be corrected (however subtly) by public health leaders like Dr. Fauci.
I don’t how else to say it: we’re called to live the with-God life, not the with-Trump life.