Someone on Facebook recently asked me the question, “What do you say to those who read Daniel 2:21 and say we did not have a choice in the [presidential] election?” Daniel 2:21 says that God “changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings.” So, asked the inquirer, does this means that “God will raise up whomever he wants,” and that “now God has spoken and has decided to choose Donald Trump”? This sounds “almost as if God has rigged the election.”
In answering this, let’s begin by asking a more general question: Why does anything happen the way it does? What are the possible causes of any event that occurs? Actually there are only three possible causes for anything, namely, (1) God, (2) natural law, and (3) the decisions of free-will creatures. Regarding the outcome of the election, we can eliminate natural law. This leaves us with either God or human decisions.
Many people do indeed think that GOD caused Trump to be elected (or at least they wonder if this might be so). Before the election I saw this sentiment expressed often: “It really does not matter for whom you vote. God will decide who wins and who loses.” A week or so after the election, another Facebook entry opined: “I believe that God has a reason why Trump won and I see why.” (The writer did not see fit to share this reason with us, however.) And then we have the speculation above, that it seems “as if God has rigged the election.”
This conclusion is based on a fairly common view of God, especially in view of Scriptures such as the one cited above. This view is theistic determinism, known in its popular form as Calvinism. This is the idea that God is the ultimate and only real CAUSE of everything that happens. Natural law and human beings are intermediate or secondary causes: God works his will through them as instruments. In the final analysis, though, everything that happens is caused by God.
All true Calvinists believe this; many others have simply latched on to this idea and assume that it is true. True Calvinists, though, cite Biblical texts such as Daniel 2:21 (above) to prove their view. To this are added other texts, such as 1 Samuel 2:7, “The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts”; Job 34:24, “He shatters the mighty without investigation and sets others in their place”; Psalm 75:7, “It is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another”; Daniel 5:21, “The Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will” (ESV).
Thus it is a legitimate question: did God “rig” (i.e., determine) the result of the Trump-Clinton election? If not, then how can we understand these Biblical texts? The answer to the first question is NO; and to the second question the answer is that these texts must be understood in the historical context in which they were written, i.e., in the Old Covenant era. And this must be understood in the larger context of God’s overall purpose for mankind, which is to surround himself with creatures made in his own image, whom he can love and who will freely choose to love him in return.
The first and primary means by which God set out to accomplish this purpose was through the CREATION of the world (Genesis 1 and 2). But when his human creatures sinned and rebelled against him (as he foreknew they would), God was ready to put into motion the supplementary means of accomplishing this purpose, namely, SALVATION. This was something that could be worked out only through the redemptive work of the God-man, Jesus Christ. But this task of saving human beings through Jesus Christ could be accomplished only after a lengthy period of PREPARATION for bringing the Savior into the world.
The point is this: most of the Bible (from Genesis 12 to the end of the Old Testament) is focused on this specific task of preparing for the first coming of Jesus. To work out his purpose, God chose Abraham’s descendants through Isaac and Jacob—the nation of Israel—as his special physical family, and he worked with them specifically for about 2,000 years until the time was right for bringing Christ into the world. Thus almost the entire Old Testament is describing how God was working within the context of physical Israel, showing what he had to do to work out the preparation phase of his purpose.
This is the context in which the Scriptures cited above (Dan. 2:21, et al.) must be understood. They are talking about how God works to carry out his purposive will. These are the kinds of things God could do and actually did do in order to prepare for the incarnation of God the Logos as Jesus of Nazareth. If it is necessary for God to raise up the Pharaoh of the Exodus for a specific role in this purpose, then he causes it (Rom. 9:17). If it is necessary to dethrone a particular king in order to accomplish his purpose, then God does it. If it is necessary for God to raise up Nebuchadnezzar and overthrow him, then he causes it (Dan. 5:18-21). See the same for Belshazzar (Dan. 5:22ff.). If it is necessary to raise up Cyrus for a certain role in this process, then God makes sure it happens (Isa. 44:24-45:7).
But hear this: there is no reason to assume that God chooses and appoints every single governmental leader on every level in every tribe and nation in the whole world in every age! These texts tell us what God CAN do, and what he HAS done within the context of his purpose through Israel! But it is wrong to generalize or universalize these statements, as if they apply to everything that was happening (for example) in the Australian and North American continents in the Old Covenant era. Also, it is wrong to assume that they apply in the New Covenant era in the same way as in the Old, as if God were working through some physical nations today the way he worked through physical Israel in OT times. There is simply no basis for thinking that these texts apply to the American election in 2016 the same way they applied to Israel and her neighbors in OT times. Jesus specifically says (John 18:36) that his kingdom is not of this world. God is not working through any nation today—including the U.S.A. and modern Israel—as he worked during the period of preparation.
The bottom line is this: we have no reason to believe that God has any specific purpose for the U.S.A., and no purpose for determining who was going to win the 2016 election. Rather than assuming that everything has a purpose (as in Calvinism), we should assume that nothing has a purpose except those things God declares to be the case. And we can know this for sure only through the inspired words of a prophet of God: “For the Lord God does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7).
I am not saying that God had no interest in and no part at all in the 2016 American election. Many people (including yours truly) prayed that God would intervene and bring about the result that will be best for his spiritual “nation” today (the church). I believe that God did so intervene through his special providence, to influence the outcome of the election. But sometimes God’s providential intervention is ignored by his free-will creatures (Amos 4:6-11). Thus we cannot be sure whether the result of this or any other election is the result of God’s purposive will, or whether it is the result of his permissive will. The Scriptures cited above cannot decide this.
In summary, we have no reason to think that Trump’s victory was God’s purposive will: God did not cause (“rig”) it. It is much more likely (in my opinion) that it was the result of the choices made by free-will creatures under the permissive will of God, with some being influenced by God’s prescriptive will (Rom. 13:1-5; 1 Tim. 2:1-4) and by special (but resistible) providential intervention by God.