Did God Choose President Trump?

President Donald Trump being sworn in on January 20, 2017 at the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C.

The inauguration of President Donald Trump was replete with prayers, scripture readings, exhortations, and benedictions by clergy from various Christian denominations and other religions besides. But the question remains:

Did God ordain the Trump Administration?

Religious News Service interviewed theologians of differing theological and political stripes. Not surprisingly, some said yes and some said no. But the conversation would have been improved if they had recognized a more complex idea of Providence.

At the highest level is God’s overall responsibility for creating and sustaining the world as it is. Since God could have created a different world, and since God could terminate this one in a moment, it can fairly be said that nothing happens that God does not allow.

So is God responsible for the election of Donald Trump? In this important sense that God made the world in such a way that such a thing could happen, then yes.

But that’s not the level at which most people seem to want to address the issue.

The lowest level, we might call it, is the immediate level of God’s acting directly to produce a particular outcome because God likes that outcome and determines to have it, no matter what. Chief examples of such action would be God parting the Red Sea for the exodus of Israel from Egypt, or raising Jesus from the grave for the redemption of the world.

Almost every preacher or theologian I have seen interviewed, even those firmly in Trump’s camp, allows the obvious: It simply cannot be that God selected Donald Trump as the most godly and capable person in America to take the world’s most powerful office. (Those who try to whitewash Trump’s failings and extol his virtues quickly make laughingstocks of themselves.)

So no, it isn’t God’s will that Trump be president if by that you mean God is thrilled to see such a person occupying such a position.

But did God yet guide people and events to place Donald Trump in the White House?

It’s hard to see how one could be convinced of that from the campaign and election themselves, since Trump’s campaign was certainly unexpected by most and had a result predicted by few, but was not patently miraculous.

(Some preachers have claimed a prophetic word to attest that God made Trump win, but such claims are impossible to validate from the facts available.)

Yet regardless of whether one admires or despises Donald Trump and welcomes or fears his rule, is it conceivable that the God who loves the world would be indifferent to the question of who governs its most powerful country?

I suggest that the God “who works all things together for good” (Romans 8:28) and who raises and lowers rulers throughout the Bible simply must be understood, in a fundamental sense, to have ordained Donald Trump to sit at the top of American power.

His election is thus not merely one more event that happens in the complex world God once created and continues to maintain like a giant ecosystem in which God otherwise does not interfere. And it certainly is not as an event upon which God smiles as the realization of God’s dreams for human life in the USA and beyond.

No, the God of all nations has so supervised this important election to this important position such that the American people have selected the president that God wants to govern the USA at this time.

Just why God has done that, however, is the daunting question.

God plays a long game, and a complex one, full of dark episodes of judgment as well as bright portents of hope.

So daunting is that question of why God has done what God has done, in fact, that those grinning preachers who so readily blessed Donald Trump on Inauguration Day ought to have taken a moment to think, and pray, about exactly what the God of the Bible might be up to in such an event, in such a person, at such a time as this.

And tremble.

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John G. Stackhouse, Jr., PhD, serves as the Samuel J. Mikolaski Professor of Religious Studies at Crandall University in Moncton, New Brunswick. A graduate of Queen’s University, Wheaton Graduate School, and the University of Chicago, he was formerly Professor of Religion at the University of Manitoba and held the Sangwoo Youtong Chee Chair of Theology and Culture at Regent College, Vancouver. He has given interviews to ABC, NBC, CBC, CTV, and Global TV as well as to CBC Radio from coast to coast. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Times Literary Supplement, The Globe and Mail, the National Post, The Atlantic, Time, and Maclean’s. Author of over 700 articles, book chapters, and reviews, his tenth book is scheduled for release later this year: “Why You’re Here: Ethics for the Real World” (Oxford University Press).