If you want to help out with world hunger or justice for some neglected group, your little bit of effort counts. Even if you changed very little in the world that day, some person did get some food, or some quantity of food got shipped to a needed place, or some forgotten person got attention for their cause, or maybe over time got some distance toward getting better lawyers. Some tangible thing that improved the world happened because you leaned and strained against the wall hoping to push it over.
Voting isn't like that. Elections are binary. If your candidate wins or loses by two votes your vote counted for nothing. People oohed and aahed over Florida 2000 illustrating how every vote counts, but it doesn't. If you lived there and you voted, nothing would have been different if you had stayed home. Even if you are a person of influence, how many minds are you changing, exactly? Even the big hitters, such as Rush Limbaugh or Stephen Colbert, are mostly talking to people who already agree with them. They might move the dial on turnout a bit. They might influence their listeners toward or away from a candidate enough that, multiplied over an audience of millions, they moved a large-sounding amount of votes. Most of those votes, however, will be in states that end up being decided by hundreds of thousands or even millions of votes. Did they nudge things that much? Even at the secondary of influencing the influencers, did they change things? Rarely, if at all.
The week's preacher at camp last week was Will Barnett of Highrock church in Acton, MA. He mentioned in his opening sermon how we agonise and become obsessed with individual decisions, even feeling very focused and close to God while we are going through the decision process. But when the decision is made, we drift away a bit, relax a little. Right now the nation is focused on an electoral decision. Christians are deeply conflicted about which previously-unacceptable option they are going to embrace.
The decisions which have greater practical, measurable results follow the same pattern. Shall I ask this woman to marry me?* Will I take this job and move across the country or stay here? Is this a good time to have a child? We are focused, we do seek God's direction, we implore Him to speak to us. It was one of my earliest lessons in my 1970's Jesus Freak days, living in a community of guys who were not only frantic about whether they should move to Michigan or Washington, but whether they should buy their gas at the Shell station or the Mobil station across the street. Because you never know, God might have a plan for you to strike up a conversation with a person at one or the other, and you would be able to bring a witness, and that might be their best chance of being saved. Ever. Even in my dim, baby-Christian days I had some sense that there was something wrong with this. God was not letting you walk off the Michigan cliff, waiting for you to get with the program and listen to him and go to Washington, God was saying Michigan or Washington, Shell or Mobil? Eh. You need to treat your wife better.
Will drew us back to the "Virtue Ethics" aspect of the decision-making process. The point is not a manic focus on God for a couple of weeks, or even a full year, asking Him for that one right decision. The point is that we need to become better people, so that we make better decisions as a natural consequence of our character.
Okay, no one wants to hear that, least of all me. I've done that extended-fasting, shall-I, shan't-I type of decision-making a few times in my life. It's fine. It's a good thing. Just not as good as taking some step to improve my character, so that this decision and all subsequent decisions are made by a wiser person.
The upshot of such a change in approach is that God may be teaching each of us a different lesson. So you might vote for Hillary, while George stays home for the first time in his life, and Janice writes in John Kasich anyway, dammit. And all may be right.
We should be grateful for exactly these sorts of decisions that God sends to us. The November election is a practice version of a decision that has real consequences. Jesus is letting us have a sandbox to play in every election, where we can try out the various lessons and build our little castles for practice. Because your answer is going to have no effect on anything. This is a test. Rejoice! Most lessons in the Christian faith are expensive, considered worth it only in retrospect. This one is cheap. Use this opportunity with joy.
*Today is our fortieth wedding anniversary.