On dog teeth, an earthquake, and presidential bites
May we pray for selfless actions and tender mercies
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Which of my columns this year led to the most reader response? Was it a column about (a) Donald Trump, (b) Black Lives Matter, (c) COVID-19, or (d) dog teeth?
The answer is (d). In response to that Feb. 15 column I received more than 200 emails. The overwhelming view was: Do not pay $429 to have a veterinarian brush my dog’s teeth. Try low-cost alternatives—carrots, chews, and so forth. Amid the traumatic events of this year, that playful discussion seems so long ago. This year it seems as if—to quote Chilean poet Roberto Bolaño—“time were not a river but an earthquake happening nearby.”
As I write this, the presidential election result is up in the air, but it’s likely that Republicans will maintain their Senate majority, with crafty Mitch McConnell reelected. If that happens, our system of checks and balances will stop Democratic dictatorial tendencies even if Joe Biden ends up winning.
Thank you, God. Michael Wigglesworth’s 1662 poem, “God’s Controversy With New England,” lays out our current danger and opportunity: “Beware, O sinful Land, beware; / And do not think it strange / That sorer judgements are at hand, / Unless thou quickly change.” Both Trump and Biden during these next few days or weeks should follow Paul’s admonition to the Philippians: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
It’s in the interests of the country that both candidates act as their predecessors did in 1960 and 1976 (two tight presidential elections won by Democrats) and in 1968 and 2000 (two razor’s edge elections taken by Republicans). The contenders did not say, “Heads I win, tails you cheated.” In 2000 George W. Bush and Al Gore sent out their phalanxes of lawyers and told other supporters not to stand by, but to stand down and wait. Trump and Biden should do the same.
We won’t succeed if we follow Abraham Lincoln in his March 1861 inaugural address. His hope of avoiding civil war lay in “the better angels of our nature.” That lovely phrase was and is theologically problematic: Given original sin, our nature does not have better angels. Look at how social media users continue to vent online with expletives and divisive rhetoric, even though psychologists have found that anger merely fuels more anger. No, we need to pray for God’s common grace, the kind that doesn’t give us heaven but keeps us from turning earth into hell.
On Election Day 1770 in Massachusetts—250 years ago—Pastor Samuel Cooke preached a sermon to state leaders, including His Majesty’s Council members John Hancock and Samuel Adams. Cooke said “the true fear of God only is sufficient to control the lusts of men; and especially the lust of dominion—to suppress pride … the never-failing source of wanton and capricious power.” We should pray for both Trump and Biden to suppress their pride for the good of our nation.
Twenty years later—Election Day, 1790—Pastor Daniel Foster preached to Gov. John Hancock, Lt. Gov. Samuel Adams, and both houses of the Massachusetts Legislature. Jones said, “The eyes of God are upon you in your public capacity: He observes what attention you pay to the concerns of the public, to the widow and fatherless, the poor and needy, and the cause of virtue and religion. … Guard against pride. … Lay aside party considerations and private designs. … Then you will be blessed.”
Let’s pray for such blessings on both President Trump and would-be President Biden. Let’s pray that all of us will be able to sit under our vines and fig trees without urgently needing to debate politics. On election eve this year my church small group met by Zoom for an hour. I was impressed that during the first 40 minutes no one mentioned the election. That’s as it should be and may be once again. We can’t avoid politics, but we should pray for the tender mercy of being able to debate brushing a dog’s teeth.
—WORLD has updated this story to correct the name of Pastor Daniel Foster.
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