Some of the most popular televisions programs in the last decade have been shows that are dedicated to people who desire to achieve stardom and fame. Programs like American Idol, The Voice, The Sing-Off, America’s Got Talent, and The X-Factor are all designed to put out the possibility that average, normal people can become a world-wide success. With that success is guaranteed fame, fortune, and power.
My guess is that most evangelical Christians are not seeking fame or fortune. However, there is a subtle way in which they are being tempted, and in many ways are falling for, the same temptation that leads an American Idol contestant to audition before tough judges. This temptation, however, is more subtle because it doesn’t come in an individual quest for power and fame. It comes, rather, in a collective effort and is shrouded in patriotism, national security and political progress. To see proof of this, we need to look no further than Donald Trump’s rise as the top contender for the GOP nomination for the President of the United States.
Anyone who has known Trump over the past few decades, or has seen an episode of the reality show The Apprentice, would understand why the political pundits and major news outlets are scratching their heads in regards to his popularity. He is anything but a conventional politician. He is loud, rude, arrogant, off-the-cuff, chauvinistic, often times misogynistic, not politically correct, not to mention has no experience in public office at all.
So why is he so popular, especially among many Evangelical Christians? Whatever the reasons the “experts” are giving, there seems to be much more primitives ones. Trump’s popularity is only playing out an old cycle of temptation that began in a luscious garden in which our forefather Adam fell into, and ended in a desert wasteland where our elder brother Jesus was victorious.
In Genesis 3, the serpent tempted Eve with the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and deceived her by making her believe that if she and Adam took of the fruit, they would “surely not die” and that they would “be like God” (3:5). Embedded within those two reasons are the the temptation for security and the temptation for power. With that first bite of the forbidden fruit, Adam set the course for human history and we experience the aftertaste even today.
One reason that Trump is so popular is his promise of security. We live in a fear dominated society. There are regulations in almost every sphere of life. And in Donald Trump we see a man who is tapping into that mindset and manipulating his followers. From building walls to banning Muslims from the country, Donald Trump is promising the same thing that our ancestor, Adam, was promised.
Yes, safety is a good thing, but when safety trumps (yes, pun intended) our trusting of God’s protection in our lives, we learn that we are much more like Adam than Jesus. Jesus never guaranteed our safety, but encouraged us to entrust all things to a faithful Creator.
Secondly, Donald Trump may also be enjoying his current success because of his air of power. He is a successful business person. His pride, arrogant spirit and tone ooze power in a way that is not unlike the sixth grade school bully who needs lunch money. And in the political environment that we are living under today, especially in the conservative camp, it makes sense why he would be so popular. It would appear that the school bully is on our side. Conservatives are licking their wounds after eight years of an ultra-liberal administration and are bemoaning the return to more conservative values. Because of this, conservatives are, in a sense, willing to do whatever it takes to “take the country back,” even if that means electing a man who made his wealth on casinos, has bragged about how many women (and the quality of those women) he has slept with, who boasts about eminent domain, who willingly repeats vulgar comments about his political rivals, defends torture, who cannot hold his tongue at all, among other qualities that are typically repugnant to conservative values. It seems as though conservatives in this election are willing to gain the whole world while losing their soul (Mark 8:36).
When Eve was presented with the choice to take of the tree, she was feeling the same pressure that many of us are facing this election: do we make ourselves like God and take back the White House at any cost or do we trust God – even if it means having a candidate that we don’t like (or trust) in place?
The answer, I think, is not found in an old luscious garden, but rather a desert wasteland. When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the desert, it is important to remember that he entered having just been baptized, declared the beloved Son of God, and crowned as the cosmological king of the universe. He not only had the assurance of a loving heavenly Father’s protection and care, but also carried with him the authority over every atom in the cosmos.
When Satan tempted Jesus to jump off the pinnacle of the temple (Mt. 4:5-6), he wasn’t just asking him to test God. He was testing Jesus’ trust of God’s protection. He was asking Jesus whether or not he truly believed his Father loved him.
It is really easy to question God’s love and protection when we have had a long and disappointing eight years. But instead of trusting in a seemingly invincible candidate (with the liability of so many character issues), we must instead take the same road that Jesus took: entrusting ourselves to a faithful creator (1 Pt. 4:9).
Likewise, when Satan took Jesus to a high mountain, showed him all the glory of the nations, and promised him immediate rulership, he wasn’t tempting Jesus with power he didn’t have. Jesus was already proclaimed to be the Son of God anointed by the Spirit (Mt. 3:16-17). What he was tempting him with was power before it was time. Jesus’ earthly ministry would not come in political prestige or military might. It would come, rather, through suffering.
This is what most Evangelicals miss during such times. America is not the Kingdom of Christ (John 18:36), and Jesus never asked us to make a physical country a theocracy. When we are willing to do whatever it takes in order to “take this country back,” we are not setting up heaven on earth. Rather we are setting up something that takes the form of godliness, but denying its power (2 Tim. 3:5).
The cure, then, for our collective temptation to have power and control, is to follow Jesus’ lead. Although he knew that all things are held together by him (Col. 1:17), he waited patiently until his enemies were made a footstool (Heb. 10:13). Jesus promises us that if we endure, we will reign with him (2 Tim. 2:12), and that the meek will inherit the earth (Mt. 5:5).
We may not be auditioning on American Idol, or would even consider being a contestant on The Apprentice, but when we think about the people who are running for office, we need to remember that there is more to our motives than we think. Rescue is coming, but it isn’t in one who builds walls and bans Muslims. Rather, it is in one who has already defeated his enemies and says, “Behold, I am making all things new.”