A brief reflection on United States Inauguration Day.
Published on: 01-20-2021
Momentous events in history usually elicit different responses from different people. A change of administration in the United States may undoubtedly be one of them, if we believe discussions in the press and social media. Some people see the new government’s dawn as the hope of a brighter, kinder, and more egalitarian future. Others consider it the beginning of the end, the prelude to national disgrace, decline, and final collapse.
As in other things in life, media outlets and people’s attitudes do not reveal so much about the event in itself as to the values, wishes, and hopes of those who seek to digest it. People’s lenses and filters — our human biases — do alter the outcome.
The fact that as human beings, we process what happens differently is an axiom that, indeed, includes Seventh-day Adventists in America and elsewhere. Sifting events through personal sieves, every one of us also draws conclusions that often differ from our peers. Sometimes, a specific regulation, policy, or bill makes all the difference in our set of beliefs; often, however, our convictions run much deeper than that.
Add to that the Bible-based Adventist understanding of the role of the United States in prophecy — the certainty of knowing the end before it comes to pass — and the well-placed Adventist eagerness for Jesus to return, and you get what some might call “a perfect storm”—a personal tendency, on both sides of the spectrum—to read the morning news and draw hasty, half-cooked conclusions,.
What both informal and formal commentators often overlook is the fact that understanding the forest by describing essentially different trees does not alter the proverbial forest. There is an overarching structure, an encompassing narrative that transcends any worldly event. To illustrate this, we can review a biblical example.
Beyond Kings and Kingdoms, God
In Daniel 4, we read how, after King Nebuchadnezzar’s reason was restored, he gave glory to the God of heaven. Then, Ellen White writes in Prophets and Kings, “God’s purpose that the greatest kingdom in the world should show forth His praise was now fulfilled” (p. 521). Through it all — the threats, the dreams, the training, the worship challenges, and countless dull days of bureaucratic service in the palace — Daniel was unknowingly doing his part so that God’s ultimate purpose at that time in history could be achieved.
The book of Daniel reveals how God’s purposes transcended a specific government. The next king mentioned in the Bible after Nebuchadnezzar is the much weaker Belshazzar. Nevertheless, Belshazzar is still part of the golden head of the statue Daniel saw in a dream. But through thick and thin, through Nebuchadnezzar as well as through Belshazzar, God’s purposes were fulfilled. And then came Darius the Mede, with a different government and a different approach. Daniel got a new position, with brand-new enemies, and revamped challenges. Nothing, however, could alter God’s plans to make His will revealed, not only to His people but also to the ends of the earth.
Why? Simply put, because “like the stars in the vast circuit of their appointed path, God’s purposes know no haste and no delay” (The Desire of Ages, p. 32). No political platform, no matter how dear or opposed to our individual or collective certitudes it may be, can change the course of God’s designs. The same God who, we accept by faith, “removes kings and raises up kings” (Dan. 2:21, NKJV) will steer the story of the great controversy to its prophesized end. No shortcuts, no delays.
What About America?
Seventh-day Adventist Christians, anchored in the prophecies of Scripture, will say two things about the United States—as they always have.
The best days of America are ahead because no matter the administration of the day or our beliefs and convictions, God’s purposes for the United States and the world will be fulfilled. No human agent can prevent it or stop it.
Concurrently, the worst days of America are ahead because, according to God’s foreseeability, the prophesied conclusion of earthly history will involve challenges “such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matt. 24:21, NKJV). According, once again, to Bible prophecy, those challenges involve a preeminent role for the United States of America.
What Can We Do?
So, what can Seventh-day Adventists do as we are pushed into prime-time observers of history? Here are four suggestions.
Let us buttress our ultimate trust in the God who works through but also transcends earthly governments. Let’s review and reflect again on the Bible book of Daniel. It looks like ancient history, but it’s as current as today’s newsfeed. As we do it, let us renew our trust and faith in the God who, no matter what happens in America or elsewhere, will carry the great controversy to His revealed conclusion.
Let us make the most of our opportunities for mission. Like Philip and the Ethiopian in Acts 8:26-39, now is the time to make the most of every chance we have to open the eyes of others by explaining the Scriptures to them. It’s the time to “work the works of Him who sent [us] while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4, NKJV).
Let us rein in our prophetic impatience. As Bible-believing Christians, we want our Messiah to come today. In our understandable restlessness, we often rush to conclusions based on the latest news headline. We do well not to let the nearest event before our eyes color our overall prophetic understanding. At the same time, it might be a good time to temper our judgments, thinking twice before going after our brethren’s opinions on social media or elsewhere. Ellen White reminds us that “under God, each is to do his appointed work, respected, loved, and encouraged by the other laborers. Together they are to carry the work forward to completion” (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 275).
Let us enjoy the journey. We are a privileged generation, as most Bible prophecies have already been fulfilled. It is time to embrace our role in history, not as a heavy load but as a privilege, with the certainty that we are bound to “see greater things than these” (John 1:50), and that “he who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matt. 24:13, NKJV).