Preaching that no longer proclaims hope for deliverance nor calls us to put our trust in the God who delivers the distressed extols instead the psychological and social benefits of faith. It is a preaching of adjustment and accommodation. It is not gospel but just religion. It is Moses going back down into Egypt to teach the Hebrews to accept their slavery and make the best of it. It is Jesus patting the sick on the head and telling them to embrace their diseases as life’s way of strengthening them inwardly. It is the slave catechisms of the American churches promising the people in bondage God’s approval if they obey their masters and make no trouble. It is hope dismissed and faith domesticated.
Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord GOD. Turn, then, and live. (Ezekiel 18:31-32 NRSV)
Say to them, As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; (Ezekiel 33:11 NRSV)
Donald and Melania Trump have tested positive for COVID-19, the Corona virus pandemic that has killed more than two hundred thousand people just here in the United States. Though he knew better, Trump has consistently dismissed the virus as a hoax, a conspiracy against him, or a mild problem no worse than the flu. Our current president has been the outstanding purveyor of misinformation about this pandemic and its true dangers.
Facebook this morning is oozing both satisfaction and disgust. “I wouldn’t wish the virus on either candidate,” says self-righteous outrage at the thought that anyone would call Trump’s infection karma or express pleasure of any sort at the news. Columnist Nicholas Kristof, hardly a fan of the president, takes the civilized approach of wishing the Trumps recovery and good health. Others do indeed celebrate this turn of events as the just deserts of a president who has deliberately misled his followers and insisted his servants put themselves at risk, mocking any who dared wear masks in his presence.
What is likely to happen if Trump’s case of the virus proves mild? Will he not use his narrow escape from the ravages of COVID-19 to double down on his dismissal of its dangers and refusal to do what the nation and world need to control the infection and death rates? Will he not gloat and swagger as more people die? Will he not try to shame people who take precautions and even incite violence against them? How could we possibly expect him to do otherwise when such has been his method of operation all along?
For those who care what the Bible says, we are assured that God takes no pleasure in the death of any person. But. The rest of the message is that God wants the wicked person to turn from evil ways and act justly.
Trump’s infection is not something to celebrate, but his presidency is even less so. What are the chances he will turn, face the truth, and act justly? Our own medical science suggests the chances are nil. We have no cure for malignant narcissism, and a lifetime of practiced cruelty, swindling, and bullying present an overwhelming challenge to hope for repentance from a man who refuses to admit he has ever done anything for which to ask forgiveness.
But, we read, “with God all things are possible.” My skepticism whispers in my ear that moving Donald Trump to repentance, a true change of heart and way of life, would make walking on water look like a party trick, but such matters are left to God, not to me.
So, what do I pray for Donald J. Trump? I cannot bring myself to pray for his quick and easy recovery, knowing he would use it to mislead and destroy more people, to strut his arrogance and further inflame his cult followers to violence. Neither will I pray for his death but only for God’s grace for the nation, the world, for the children in cages, for the victims of his racism and cruelty, and, yes, for Trump himself. But God’s grace excuses no evil but, rather, deals with it, offering life to the wicked who will turn from the evil they have been doing.
My watchword, then, for this day, this turn of events, is what Moses is told by God to say to the Israelites caught between the Sea of Reeds and the pursuing Egyptian chariots. Stand, stand firm, and wait.
My wife is an elementary school teacher, now retired. Because she had effective skills in classroom management and discipline, she was able to keep control of some very difficult children many of whom had severe mental and emotional problems and severely difficult lives outside of school. But she was the adult in the classroom. She had authority, even if not so much as teachers had formerly. She also used her authority fairly and did not demean or humiliate even her most difficult and disruptive students, and so they respected her.
Even so, the disruptive child took far more than his or her fair share of time and energy, not only from the teacher, but from the other children in the class. Day after day, too much had to be about that one child (even though there was often more than just one, multiplying the theft of time and energy). Dealing fairly and empathically yet firmly with a disruptive child is exhausting.
At suppertime, the disruptive child consumed more than one share of our conversation about the school day. He or she always hovered around the edges, if not occupying dead center, of conversation about the class as a whole.
What happens when the disruptive child is not a child but an adult with power, far greater power than anyone else in the room? Last night’s so-called debate showed us what happens. Nothing restrains him – not decency certainly but not any authority, agreement on rules, or reprimand from the moderator either. He continues to act out and steal the show no matter what.
Donald Trump has been stealing the show for years. During the 2016 campaign, I began calling MSNBC a Trump channel. Not Fox, but MSNBC. Why did I call it a Trump channel? No matter the topic of conversation, no matter that the news item triggering the topic was about Hillary Clinton, the focus shifted back to Trump. I could only imagine what it was like on pro-Trump channels or shows.
How can there be a debate when one candidate is committed to lying, lives by lying, and doubles down on his lies, then steamrolls over all attempts to counter his lies? Last night we saw that there cannot be.
The disruptive child needs help. The insatiable craving for attention, the bullying of other children, and the determination to dominate the classroom cry out for help, but the needed help is difficult to give day after day, and the effort takes its toll on all the children as well as on the teacher. If Donald Trump were not in power, he would be deeply pitiable. But he is in power, and he says (and for once I believe him) that he is determined to abuse his power in every possible way to stay in power and out of criminal court. Pray for him? Yes, but first pray that he is removed (and vote to remove him) from power so the American people and the victims of his cruelty can be free of him.