Over the weekend the question of Donald Trump’s relationship with God came up again. In an interview on CNN, Jake Tapper questioned Trump specifically about the statement that he (Trump) has never asked for forgiveness. Trump repeated the formulation he has used before, that he’s not sure he has ever asked God for forgiveness. In fact, he doubled-down on the notion that, because of his righteous living, this has not been necessary.
I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don’t think so. I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.
I can’t believe that any Christian person, even superficially instructed, as it were, by God’s word and the understanding that results from it, fails to recognize that Trump’s statement is entirely incompatible with the foundational premise of Christian life. That understanding, made available to us by God’s Grace, lets us know that the coming of Christ is part of God’s plan for humanity, a plan that has been unfolding since first He said “Let us make man in our own image and after our likeness….” It has been unfolding ever since Eve and Adam ate of the forbidden fruit, transgressing the bonds of human nature that conform with God’s intention for human happiness and perfection.
As a result of that transgression human nature, as such, is no longer in right relationship with God. Like convicts on death row, human beings live under sentence of death, reprieved but for a time. We cannot again be removed from death’s shadow, and truly restored to the life that God intends for us, until and unless we come to know the light that is the Word of God Incarnate; Jesus Christ come in human form to offer and impart the Grace that makes that restoration possible. So from the beginning Jesus preached repentance (Mark 1:15, Luke 13:3)
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In the interview with Tapper, Trump alluded to the fact that “people are so shocked when they find….out I am Protestant. I am Presbyterian. And I go to church and I love God and I love my church.” He says “I try to lead a life where I don’t have to ask God for forgiveness,” Trump said. “Why do I [sic] have to ask for forgiveness if you’re not making mistakes? I work hard, I’m an honorable person.”
I have a great relationship with God. I have a great relationship with the Evangelicals. In fact, nationwide, I’m up by a lot, I’m leading everybody. But I like to be good. I don’t like to have to ask for forgiveness. And I am good. I don’t do a lot of things that are bad. I try to do nothing that is bad. I live a very different life than probably a lot of people would think.
Both in his words and in the logic of them, Trump reminded me of someone I have heard much about in the course of my life, someone Christ spoke of in one of his most famous parables (Luke 18:9-14).
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector [publican]. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.
Donald Trump claims, like the Pharisee, to be righteous in his deeds. But he also admits that people are shocked to hear that he is a man whose faith and love for God lead to such righteousness in action. I guess these are people willing to form their impressions of his life from the tabloid media frenzy that has so often accompanied it. Some doubtless think that his reputed “life-style” places him among the wrongdoers the Pharisee self-righteously contemns.
Not knowing Mr. Trump, or being in any way privy to the real details of his personal life, I refuse to judge his personal life based on what is reported by the media. My personal experience suggests that media reports are mistaken or willfully deceitful, more often than not. So I will not judge Trump or anyone else based solely on such reports. Christ’s words do caution me, however, against easily assuming that great wealth and great God pleasing righteousness go hand-in-hand. (Matthew 19:24) Moreover, Christ’s example cautions me against assuming that wealth alone leads God to withhold His love. (Mark 10:17-22)
It is not the tabloid tenor of Trump’s personal life, or the savor of mammon worship his evident preoccupation with moneymaking wafts to mind, that compel me to wonder about his profession of Christian faith. Nor is it just the note of prideful self-congratulation resounding in this latest interview, and many other aspects of his campaign. Rather it is the open declaration of moral self-sufficiency with which he proclaims that, “when I do something wrong I just try to make it right, I don’t bring God into that picture.”
But if God isn’t in the picture, how does Donald Trump know the difference between right and wrong? He is running to be the chief executive officer of a nation founded on the premise that God is the Supreme Judge of the World. God is the authority by whose will all human claims of right are endowed and therefore substantiated. But if God is the judge of right and wrong, how can right be done except according to His will? How then can Trump judge wrong, or make it right, except he consults the rule of God, seeks the judgement of God, and acts in the belief that his action is affirmed by God? If he does not trust in God’s Being and Power when he judges whether he has fallen into sin, and what is required to make amends, will he act with that same mentality of willful self-sufficiency when it comes to making the decisions on behalf of our nation?
Trump’s presumption seems far distant from the mind of America’s founding generation, expressed in Ben Franklin’s famous call for prayer at the Constitutional Convention, when he said:
I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth that God Governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that “except the Lord build the House they labour in vain that build it.”
I marvel that people who profess to be sincere followers of Christ would want Donald Trump’s presumptuous, God eschewing self-sufficiency to be the example of Christian statesmanship Americans elect to place before our children and the people of the world. True followers of Christ believe that no individual can be saved except by the Grace of God. What, then, of our nation, a nation founded upon the belief that right, rights and equal justice for all are primordially established, and therefore cannot be secured, except by the authority, endowment, judgment and efficacious power of God?
Donald Trump boasts that he will restore America’s greatness- but except we repent of judgments and purported “laws” that have rejected the nation’s God-dependent premises, we will know nothing great except great evil. But if Mr. Trump has never prayed the publican’s prayer- what reason is there to believe that he can return us again to our home of liberty, restored by righteousness. Of what worth is Trump’s all too human promise to protect Christianity if, in his pride, he doesn’t seek God’s forgiveness and beseech His wisdom and protection along the way?
Isn’t Donald Trump’s repeatedly self-described example, which leaves God out of the picture when it comes to repentance, already, in and of itself, the betrayal of the promise he makes to protect Christianity? For what shred of Christian faith is left intact when humanity, in its Pharisaical pride, chooses rather to exalt and praise its own self-willed power, rather than trusting the power of God and His Word to instruct and empower us to heal both ourselves and our soul-imperiled country?
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