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Faith Into Action

Trump’s election didn’t challenge my belief in God, but it did challenge my assumptions about God’s will

From a pre–Election Day vantage point, a Trump victory seemed like enough of a tragedy that I wondered what kind of God would impose it upon the world. Even in the abstract, such cruelty didn’t fit the God I thought I knew. I wondered if my faith could survive it.

Then that cruelty came to pass. And the threat Trump poses to the American way of life, the global balance of power, and, for that matter, the globe itself has become more real and more urgent. If six weeks ago I was worried, now I’m terrified.

I have followed through on a few of the things I thought I’d be doing if he was elected: I set up regular monthly donations to organizations that will defend the most vulnerable. I have committed more time to places where I can volunteer in my community. I am, in all seriousness, exploring disaster-preparedness options — mostly because it’s just a good idea, but also because if a natural disaster strikes near me, I don’t want to rely on whatever donor Trump puts in charge of FEMA to come and help me. Congratulations, conservatives! You got this liberal to stop trusting government!

Yet I am somewhat surprised to find my spiritual faith intact.

Perhaps it’s out of habit (though I’ve believed in good government for far longer than I’ve believed in God). I have a specific set of expectations for democracy — and I know when it’s failed me — whereas I’ve surrendered all expectations when it comes to the Almighty. Part of my coming to believe in an all-powerful deity was to let go of understanding it. I had to buy into the fact that bad things will always happen. I decided to accept that such events were not about God’s goodness; they were reminders that God doesn’t always arrange the universe to my liking. Sometimes God arranges the universe so that I will have to work harder than I wanted to.

So Trump’s election, it turns out, didn’t challenge my belief in God, but it did challenge my assumptions about God’s will. His will was different than mine (from the majority of the country’s, in fact); I’ve been able to accept that God’s plan is different than mine when it comes to other, smaller tragedies — why should I expect an election to line up my way? An even better question: Who am I to say that this tragedy is that much greater than the many others visited on this world? Who am I to say things couldn’t be (or get) worse?

God doesn’t always arrange the universe to my liking. Sometimes God arranges the universe so that I will have to work harder than I wanted to.

As I comprehend the scale of Trump’s destructive whims (a Chinese bomber! Russia having its way with our information infrastructure!), I have turned to my faith with greater urgency; I have sought comfort in the redemption I believe it offers. I’ve been on the internet long enough to know that some consider such belief a crutch. I’m desperate enough for comfort to acknowledge that it totally is.

Call me a coward, call me lazy, call me ignorant, call me a fool. According to my faith, I’m all those things and worse: I’m a sinner. But because I believe in God’s unconditional love, it doesn’t matter what you think about me. Even more to the point: It doesn’t matter what I think about me; I am beloved by God and saved by grace. What does God ask in return? God’s greatest commandment to me, above all others, is to love God back — OK, I’m on it. God’s second commandment? To love my neighbor as I love myself. (For those unfamiliar with the idea: I’m actually quoting here.) That’s harder. It’s never easy! But it’s especially hard right now, because it’s a call to love neighbors who may never love me. It’s a call to love neighbors who delight in a man that sows hate. This call to love comes at a time when the only reason I have to love is because God has commanded it.

I can rarely summon love as an emotion in these cases. But that’s OK, because love is also an action, a real-world duty, and God has shown me what love looks like: It is clothing the naked, tending to the sick, visiting those in prison — even when the prison bars are ideological, and the sickness is rage, the nakedness fear. When someone is a stranger, I can take them in. I can act with respect even when my dignity is assaulted. I can show interest in someone else’s pain even when they have no interest in mine.

I’ve always interpreted “love thy neighbor as thyself” as a call to justice as much as service; I suspect Trump’s America will have neither in great supply. So while I may not know God’s will for everyone and everything, I think I know what God wants from me for the next four years. We are surrounded by strangers who need taking in.

So if my faith is an intellectual crutch, it also calls me to practical action, and in action there is strength. Ask those who brought prayer to the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, and whose faith brought them to the protests.

And yes, my faith is probably a habit, a thing I keep doing without too much thought. But I’ve had bad habits before, and this doesn’t feel like one of those. Bad habits blind you to their consequences; my faith asks me to see consequences clearly. My belief doesn’t lull me into fantasies of an afterlife, it allows me to get working on the here and now. When the universe does not work out the way I want it to, it’s because God is giving me the chance to be a part of what comes next — something bigger than myself.