My short response to Dr. Volf?: “Perhaps. That said, at same time, the ‘Jesus’ of many evangelical elites seems to me pretty tame, cleaned up, and kind of PC.”
In short, I must confess the following: Many of the things that Mr. Trump says that upset people so much actually remind me of the God I know from the Bible[i].
Obviously, this post is meant to be controversial and to get persons thinking. Please note, I myself did not vote for Donald Trump in the Minnesota caucuses, largely in part because I have real doubts about his character and do not know if I can trust him (or is the problem that you can trust him?).
My goal here it to get persons thinking long and hard about the nature of God and what He has done for all persons in Jesus Christ, our Lord – using the Donald as a springboard. Again, I am not supporting Donald Trump for President and I also do not believe that any politician is going to be able to really satisfy those who vote for them – particularly when the problems in our country these days run so unbelievably deep (for example, see this from the Brookings Institution the other day – it is deplorable that many of our politicians don’t have the courage to keep things like this in the forefront).
So, with all of this said, why does Donald Trump make me think about the God of the Bible? Well, for example:
1. Donald Trump believes in being loyal to those closest to him. Ask his family. That said, Trump seems like a narrow-minded nationalist instead of a broad-minded globalist! Well, Christians should reflect here. In Galatians 6:10, the Apostle Paul, as God’s very mouthpiece, states: “… as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” While the Christian is to be concerned to bring good to all persons, there is also to be a hierarchy among our concerns. One notes that the Apostle Paul also said that the Christian who does not take care of his own family is worse than a pagan. Should this not also come into play when it comes to those neighbors who are physically closest to us? Further, in some Christian circles, one might get the impression that it is better to adopt children from poorer nations than from needy ones in one’s own neighborhood. But why, really, should this be the case? When it comes to how we distribute our love, should not family ties, one’s history with others, and physical proximity be, in general, the most critical factors that we take into account? Even as we also insist that God calls us to be good Samaritans, meeting the needs of the “outsiders” God just happens to throw into our paths?
2. Donald Trump can use colorful, attention-getting language that stops us in our tracks and gets us thinking. Of course, God would never do this, right? Well, Donald Trump, at least, has not caused some religious believers to be taken back and offended by things like the Song of Solomon’s sex-drenched poetry or Ezekiel 23’s seemingly salacious description. According to Preston Sprinkle, editor of the forthcoming Zondervan book Four Views on Hell, the Bible is full of language and details many of would usually avoid. In part, he tells of the well-known Bible professor Tremper Longman admitting that our “translations are filtered through a bit of political correctness.” Sprinkle writes: “I spend a good deal of classroom time instilling in my students a passion to interpret and believe what the Bible actually says. Not what we want it to say, but what it really says in all its grit and occasional offensiveness. Cleaning up God’s word is like editing a love letter and sending it back for a re-write.” The title of Sprinkle’s post that implies God is OK with profanity is, I would say, going much too far. That said, some of the content of his post should at least cause us to wrestle with the significance of these matters.
3. Donald Trump knows the world is a cruel and evil place. In his 2007 book Think BIG and Kick A** in Business and Life (yes, I think that title says a lot), he and his co-author Bill Zanker write, in response to a question about Trump’s attitude towards people:
“The world is a vicious and brutal place. We think we’re civilized. In truth, it’s a cruel world and people are ruthless. They act nice to your face, but underneath they’re out to kill you. You have to know how to defend yourself. People will be mean and nasty and try to hurt you just for sport. Lions in the jungle only kill for food, but humans kill for fun. Even your friends are out to get you: they want your job, they want your house, they want your money, they want your wife, and they even want your dog. Those are your friends; your enemies are even worse! My motto is ‘hire the best people and don’t trust them’” (p. 29).
We might think this is overly sad, cynical, and untrusting – especially for Christians, who know that God can begin to overcome the Cretan’s paradox in Christ! All that said, to me this kind of sounds like what God says about human beings in Genesis 6:5-8, 8:21, and Jeremiah 17:9. Jesus Himself had no pretensions about human goodness, calling his own disciples wicked (Luke 11:13) and insisting only God is good (Luke 18:19 ; see also John 2 and 3).
4. People who hurt Donald Trumps’s family and his friends will find themselves – and perhaps their families – hurt. Like God (see the Pentateuch and the book of Joshua), Donald Trump has been accused of encouraging war crimes. Trump has even said that he would order the military to go after the families of terrorists. When he talked about going after these folks prior to the March 3rd debate, he had made these comments noting that terrorists sometimes purposely use innocents as human shields (although very few persons who criticized him for this provided this critical context). Christians like to emphasize passages from the book of Ezekiel that say that the children will not be punished for the sins of the fathers. That said, other passages in the Bible do talk about God punishing in a more corporate fashion, i.e. there are “natural results of one persons’ actions ‘rolling downhill’ on another person” (quote from here). When it comes to God, even if one’s eternal punishment is not connected with the sins of one’s relatives or friends, this is, strictly speaking, not always true of the temporal realm.
5. Donald Trump can catch evil ones in their own craftiness. If Donald Trump does actually want to take Planned Parenthood to task for abortion – and I will admit that this is a big “if” – he has set them up perfectly. Look at it this way: he has called their bluff about abortion only being 3% of their business. If this is the case, when he defunds them for the abortions they do, that means that they shouldn’t complain much! Of course, we know that those statistics are misleading, and that Planned Parenthood is really only about abortion, with the majority of the funding going to support just this practice. The irony is delicious: even though Trump has said that he will defund them for abortion, he actually has them praising him for supporting them in a debate! With his approach to the issue, assuming that he really does mean what he says here (I note Mike Huckabee defends his conversion), he is poised to catch them in their own words, and destroy their incomprehensibly evil work forever. Like God, perhaps he will “catch the wise in their craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are swept away.” (Job 5:13) Maybe Planned Parenthood should actually be more worried than ever.
6. People who do not respect Trump’s will to protect his people will experience painful torture. “Good God, don’t go there!”, some of you are saying. Yes, I know what you mean, but let’s reflect here as well. As a Christian, I know that God does not desire the death of the wicked and desires all persons to be saved. Therefore, like many Christians, I struggle with the concept of eternal conscious suffering in hell, even as I ask those who say God annihilates people instead: “Is it man who desires that God does not exist, or God who desires that man not exist?” Luke 16, the story of the rich man and Lazarus, is not talking about hell (eternal punishment) but rather Sheol or Hades (the realm of the dead where evil persons go before the final judgment). Nevertheless, the rich man says about this place: “Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.” Given that Christians have never believed that a person will get a second chance to receive Christ after they die, one might say of Trump’s position on water-boarding (something I consider an absolute last resort, “lesser-of-two-evils” thing that still requires forgiveness before Almighty God) that his torture, unlike God’s[ii], at least has a clearly stated purpose: that of protecting his countrymen.
7. Finally, Donald Trump mocks those who oppose him and his ways. In the Bible, we see that when God’s enemies oppose His ways (which, unlike Donald’s, are always good), He will not hesitate to mock his enemies – even calling them names in order to make a point. God’s servants do the same, with the classic example of this being Elijah confronting the impotent god of the prophets of Baal. Whether God wants to do this to wake up the person he mocks or to send a signal to those who are able to hear is beside the point – God creatively mocks persons to make specific points about their behavior. Jesus called the Pharisees “white-washed tombs” and labeled Herod a “fox”. As a Lutheran, I cannot help but think of the many names that Martin Luther gave to his opponents, usually with the intent of drawing attention to the evil things they were saying and doing (I even recently heard from one of my students about a Roman Catholic priest he met who had converted to Lutheranism shortly after discovering the Luther Insulter!). A scholarly view examining the significance and importance of Luther’s treatment of his opponents can be found here.
There are seven things off the top of my head where I see similarities between Donald Trump and God. I’m sure there are others that could be added.
There are many ways that Donald is not like God. The common people might hear both Trump and Jesus gladly (another clue why), but unlike our God — who comes to us in humility and simplicity (riding a donkey, or hidden in water, bread and wine) — proud and showy Donald Trump does need to apologize for his actions. To take just one example, Donald, like the men that Kamel Daoud writes about, has not always treated women the way he should. Trump has not hurt women like many men do, but he has, deplorably, cheating on his past wife and even slept with the wives of others. This is not a case of the jealous beta male calling out the guy who is lucky to have the alpha male traits. Our Lord Jesus Christ, risen from the dead that all may know that He is Lord and Savior, is a faithful husband to His Bride, the Church. This Donald has not done, and for this he certainly does need the forgiveness of Jesus, the Christ – forgiveness won through His death that abides not only for great sinners like him, but for each and every one of us.May God have mercy on us all during these tumultuous and disturbing times – as we seriously wrestle with the meaning of Donald Trump’s candidacy (a couple recent articles I thought were very valuable, here and here).
[i] And yes, I know some people not only think that Trump is a terrifying autocrat, but that Jesus’ teachings demand democratic governance. If you think that, I advise you listen to this insightful podcast.
[ii] And this is not to decry God for not giving us details about the actual nature of his punishment following our death, or His reasons for it – I submit to these without fully understanding. Other Christians who believe the Bible teaches eternal conscious torment, like C.S. Lewis for example, talked about how they believe “hell was locked from the inside”. What he says here seems to be a variation on what, in particular, many Eastern Orthodox Christians believe to be true about hell (see here). The 16th century church Reformer also commented that “You have the God you believe in…”, another idea which perhaps has some relevance to this issue.