Turnout for this presidential election looks to be the largest in 120 years. Partisan passions over the past four years ramped up to the level of life-or-death seriousness due to the coronavirus pandemic. Many insisted the soul of the nation was at stake. What’s incredible—despite all the worry and Democratic candidate Joe Biden’s likely victory—is how little the landscape shifted. President Trump’s defeat, welcomed by half the country (with the most votes ever for a presidential candidate), was bemoaned by the other half (with the second most votes ever for a presidential candidate). Moreover, the Democrats’ win of the White House ended up mitigated by Republican gains in the House and likely control of the Senate, contradicting most polls and cocksure forecasts of a blue tsunami.
David French likened the election to trench warfare during World War I. “The combatants on the Western Front expended an enormous amount of blood and treasure to move the lines a mile here and a mile there, only to see them snap right back after the next counteroffensive. The effort was overwhelming. The gains were often nominal.”
And yet, election day proved surprisingly peaceful and orderly, an astonishing display of the power of American democracy; that “government of the people, by the people, for the people” has not yet perished from the earth. Moreover, a Biden presidency may portend the end of religion as political weapon and free it for serving the common good.
Christian eschatology presses toward a day when God’s goodness, freedom, and justice are common fare. Revelation 7:9 envisions an epic turnout of billions, “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” In Revelation 19:6, that same multitude praises God to the tune of the hallelujah chorus: “Our Lord God Almighty reigns.” These multitudinous throngs surround the throne of God, securing strength, purpose, and assurance amid turmoil.
Before Revelation’s crescendos of hallelujah, however, the Old Testament prophets visualized a record turnout for different reasons. Joel 3:14 reported “multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision,” an apt descriptor of election day 2020. A classic doom-and-gloom, turn-or-burn prophet, Joel identified this valley of decision as a place named Jehoshaphat. Rather than a specific location, Jehoshaphat was a symbolic declaration as the name means “Yahweh has judged.”
Into this valley, the Lord issues a provocation—a taunt, a dare—against a vast and ghastly assemblage of history’s evil—a scene so scary Joel himself prays for the Lord to intervene and bring forth his own warriors too (v. 11). Battle lines get drawn, then blur as the anticipation of a fight suddenly recedes and the fiendish nations realize they’ve been baited into a monumental mismatch. God sits on his throne (v. 12), through in Joel, the image has less to do with assurance than with judgment. The prophet identifies “multitudes in the valley of decision,” a phrase just as easily translated as a “melee in the valley of the verdict.” God’s decision has already been made, and the result is pandemonium—whether in celebration or consternation—another apt descriptor of election day 2020.
Add to the political pandemonium the coronavirus pandemic, alongside civil unrest over racism, a shaky economy, and the warming doom of climate change, and you have all the ingredients for what Joel would have recognized as harbingers of the Day of the Lord (3:14). I don’t mean to regard our days as the Last Days; God only knows (Mark 13:32). Still, as a classic doom-and-gloom, turn-or-burn prophet, Joel issued a singular summons in the face of pending catastrophe that echoes throughout Scripture and applies to today: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21; Rom. 10:13). Joel’s summons came with the assurance of God’s Spirit poured out on all people (2:28; Acts 2:17–21), a preview of Pentecost and its own harbinger of God’s drawing of all things toward that last hallelujah. Joel foresaw the Lord as “a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel” (3:16).
The historically high voter turnout does not guarantee meaningful change. The enormous numbers may only intensify division and stiffen resolve. Social media is sure to keep resentment simmering until the next conflict.
For our part, we’ve encouraged followers of Jesus to put away their weapons (John 18:11) and to move past mere civility toward true love as an expression of justice and compassion. We’ve called for unity despite competing visions of church for the sake of the kingdom of God and Christian witness. Loving our friends and our enemies alike remains the hallmark of Christian discipleship.
Despite any ongoing political fury and viral anxiety, God is on his throne. This phrase can come off as an expression of helpless resignation or disengagement, but as Biblical reality, the enthronement of God and the Lamb invites us to yield to greater truth. To approach a throne means taking a knee. In our culture, kneeling has become mostly associated with protest and marriage proposals, but in churches where it still happens, kneeling is the posture of prayer. I’m an age when kneeling mostly hurts and is hard to get up from, but when I manage it, I feel the humility such a posture intends. To kneel is to humbly accede to greater truth, whether it be liberty and justice for all under the law, undying devotion to one we want to marry, or the wholehearted worship of God.
Worship and obedience, repentance and grace, these recalibrate our priorities and refocus our eyes on Jesus. As the light of the world (John 8:12), Jesus sheds light on the path of righteousness, a road on which we must still bear our crosses—a burden made light by the Spirit’s strength (Matt. 11:30). The Holy Spirit is poured out on God’s people, a power that turns even hardship to joy (James 1:2–4). Our hallelujahs need not wait for the last day.
Daniel Harrell is editor in chief of Christianity Today.