As I write this (Friday morning) it is impossible to miss the sound of election winners and losers, although to be honest it is slightly difficult to work out exactly who the winners and losers are. I don’t have anything to say about whether the result of the election was right or wrong – I have a policy of not commenting publicly on politics in a partisan way. But I have found the reflections of the Christian Fathers helpful as I process my own response. This is a stand-alone article but if you’re interested in some thoughts on how to live as a Christian in political conflict, you might want to check out my two previous posts.

The Danger of Hubris

Judging from Facebook and the news and radio I have seen many are triumphant while others despair. Analyses of the causes of the result are different but often seem to include accusations of ‘hubris’ or ‘arrogance’ while others risk sounding triumphalist at best in their response.

Christian and Jewish Scripture and the early Christian writers have much to say about the dangers of hubris. The writer of Proverbs comments:

Pride goes before destruction,
a haughty spirit before a fall.
[1]

There is a subtle truth here. When we think we are fine, when we believe we cannot be touched, we are blind to the dangers that lurk for us and so find it easier to lose our footing and stumble. As the ancient Christian writers reflected on this they went further and observed that the flaws or dangers which can hurt us most are often already present even when we feel triumphant. By the time we notice it can be too late to do anything about it. St John Cassian uses the picture of the collapse of a house:

“Loss goes before destruction, and an evil thought before a fall,” just as no house ever falls to the ground by a sudden collapse, but only when there is some long-standing flaw in the foundation or when by long-continued neglect of its inhabitants, what was at first only a little drip breaks through and the protecting walls are gradually ruined. In consequence of long-standing neglect the gap becomes larger and the walls break away, and in time the drenching storm and rain pours in like a river.[2]

There is a lesson here for those of us who feel as though we are triumphant, whether in politics or otherwise. Rather than focussing on our success or greatness we should try to be alert to those things that we have been neglecting, the areas of our life that are yet to be redeemed.

For Christians this is not an exercise in self-condemnation or despair because we already know we need to be saved. It is exactly through this kind of humility that we can receive the forgiveness and restoration of God. To adapt John Cassian’s image, all of our houses need repair – it is only when we accept it that we can begin work.

Nor is it something we should have to go through alone. We walk together, encouraging and challenging one another.

The Danger of Triumph

This brings us to our second group – those who are not overtaken by a feeling of invincibility but are touched by unexpected triumph. Many of us may identify with this feeling this week, particularly if we feel that our voice has not previously been heard or given credibility.

In some ways this was the position of ancient Israel. They had been freed from slavery in Egypt, had triumphed over their enemies, and were (they believed) heading for the Promised Land. Yet at the moment of their greatest triumph things began to go badly for them. They became proud, forgot that their triumphs were rooted in the grace of God, and began to behave in the same way as those that they had been liberated from. The consequence was that they turned away from God who had brought them victory and he in turn removed his protection from them.[3]

St Paul says that this is an example that we should learn from:

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.[4]

His point is that it is at our moment of triumph, when we think our feet are most firmly set that we are most likely to slip. There is a sober warning for those of us who are Christians and those who are not. For those who are Christians, we should not take our relationship with God for granted. St John Chrysostom commented on this verse:

For the way in which we stand in this world is not secure and will not be until we are delivered out of the waves of this present life into the peaceful haven of eternal rest. Therefore, do not be proud of your standing, but pay attention so that you will not stumble. If Paul was afraid that it might happen to him, how much more ought we to be afraid also.

His point is that we need to keep on pressing into and relying upon God every day rather than relying upon and glorying too much in our past victories.

This applies in other areas of life too. I am not suggesting that when a particular party triumphs in an election they should ascribe their victory to divine intervention. God does not, I believe, wear a rosette of any particular colour. But if we feel triumphant or happy this weekend, we should not get carried away with it. Instead we should try to cultivate humility and concern for others even in our moment of triumph. When we comment in public we should remember that just as we have succeeded today, so we might fail tomorrow and treat others as we would want to be treated.

The Hope of Reconciliation

If these are the dangers we need to be aware of, then what is our positive aspiration? Whatever side we were on, we should seek to bring reconciliation between people and beyond that between them and God. In his second letter to the Corinthians, St Paul wrote:

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.[5]

Christians believe that God in Jesus has undertaken the ultimate act of reconciliation. He humbled himself, suffered and died to bring peace with his enemies. So too should we.

Whether we are red, blue, yellow, or purple;
whether we are remainiacs or brexiteers;
whether we are male, female, black, white, rich, or poor;
whether we have experienced triumph or despair;
we are all loved by God and in need of his redemption.

It is fine to celebrate or mourn. But in all things let us remember Christ who comforts those who mourn, lifts high those who are brought low, and gave his life as a ransom for many.

[1] Proverbs 16:18

[2] John Cassian, Conference 6.17 quoted in Wright, J. Robert, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture IX (Downers Grove: Ill, IVP, 2005).

[3] You can read a summary of this in 1 Corinthians 10:1-10.

[4] 1 Corinthians 10:11-13.

[5] 2 Corinthians 5:11-15.

Image Credit: David Harman

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