That Which We Feared Has Come Upon Us

By James M. Wall

screen-shot-2016-11-09-at-8-44-01-amThe early morning after Donald Trump’s shocking upset election victory, the first thought that came to my mind was Job’s dark lament: “For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me”. KJV Job 3:25.

My mother seared that verse into my consciousness the moment she quoted it, when my wife and I traveled 45 sad miles to tell my mother of the unexpected death of her son, who was also my oldest brother.

Job’s lament was her immediate reaction, followed by her quoting to me another line from Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him”.

When I recall that exchange that took place in my childhood home in Monroe, Georgia, it is a memory in a different context, consistent with the distress I felt in response to Trump’s victory.

It is a response not shared by more than half of those voters who gave Donald Trump the presidency.

Stunned by that final vote, and yet bolstered by the memory of my mother’s testimony of faith in the midst of her darkness, I turned to John Wesley’s Notes.  

This is how Methodism’s founder understood Job’s lament.:

51kpime7zyl3:25 Feared – Even in the time of my prosperity, I was full of fears, considering the variety of God’s providences, the changeableness of this vain world, God’s justice, and the sinfulness of all mankind. And these fears of mine, were not in vain, but are justified by my present calamities.

“Justified” had a special meaning for Wesley. Each faith tradition has its own way of understanding a believer’s trust in God. In the Methodist tradition:

The justifying dimension of “God’s grace is a gift. God’s grace alone brings us into relationship with God. There are no hoops through which we have to jump in order to please God and to be loved by God. God has acted in Jesus Christ. We need only to respond in faith.

It was her belief, as my mother testified those decades ago, that our “present calamities” will not be permanent. For her, out of darkness comes hope.

Donald Trump’s political victory was a defeat of the political establishment of both political parties which have grown moribund because those parties placed far too much political power in the hands of those who seek power to enrich themselves .

Donald Trump is not the leader I would have chosen to break up that moribund political/financial combine. But Trump it is, Mr. and Mrs. America, the man the majority of you chose to be our 45th President with his finger on the nuclear trigger.

Will Trump be as disastrous as his campaign rhetoric and personal comments would lead us to expect, or is there hope things can change for the better?

For one answer, join Thomas Friedman as he searches for a “silver lining” in his post-election column for The New York Times.

Before I lay out all my fears, is there any silver lining to be found in this vote? I’ve been searching for hours, and the only one I can find is this: I don’t think Trump was truly committed to a single word or policy he offered during the campaign, except one phrase: “I want to win.”

But Donald Trump cannot be a winner unless he undergoes a radical change in personality and politics and becomes everything he was not in this campaign. He has to become a healer instead of a divider; a compulsive truth-teller rather than a compulsive liar; someone ready to study problems and make decisions based on evidence, not someone who just shoots from the hip; someone who tells people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear; and someone who appreciates that an interdependent world can thrive only on win-win relationships, not zero-sum ones.

Can there be a total make-over for Trump from the racist, misogynist bully he portrayed in his campaign? Is that even possible? This is not a beauty contest, a television show or a hotel complex.

It is the leadership of the free world he has been handed. If he wants his time in office to be one that is consistent with his stated desire to be a unifier and strong president, he must surround himself with builders who know how to shape a post-establishment political nation that unifies and does not divide. 

For the rest of us, we know what we must do: Never despair and never quit working for others in our particular corner of God’s creation.

The image above, of President-elect Trump, is a screen shot taken on election night. 

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
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10 Responses to That Which We Feared Has Come Upon Us

  1. Ann James says:

    Your comment reinforces the advise from Barth and Niebuhr to the effect that one should have a Bible in one hand, newspaper in the other. I get through all the punditry/rhetoric/machinations by also keeping my Shakespeare close to hand, “holding a mirror up to nature,”: no one gives a better reflection of character and politics.

  2. Sam Bryan says:

    I found Hillery’s concession speech reference to the verse below helpful too and it resonates with your concluding sentence and the general sentiment of your mother –
    Galatians 6:9New King James Version (NKJV)
    9 And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.

  3. sue roegge says:

    Today hurts. I wish I could get a hug from you , Mr. Wall. For anyone reading this, the Walls were close family friends of my parents and I am proud to say I’ve known him my whole life. In fact , he baptized me and then later performed the wedding ceremony to my beloved husband.
    Maybe I’ll sign off here and just reminisce about happy memories this afternoon!

  4. Philip Hudson says:

    Remember Trump did not receive the majority vote. He received then electoral college majority. It is possible for an electoral college to vote its conscience rather than vote for the standard bearer. It has happened before. But it is not likely to happen with a Republican senate and house. I am afraid we are stuck with him. We can only hope that the inevitable major screw up he will doubtless make will not get us into a global war.

  5. AWAD SIFRI says:

    Jim, Thank you for your consoling message today, one of two of the worst days in recent American history: 9/11 and 11/9, as a Palestinian -American sent me in a message, today.
    In trying to “turn lemon into lemonade”, I would like to think that we can learn from some “teaching moments” from this shocking experience:
    1- Most Americans will desperately seek change, regardless of who is running for Office, after having the “same” party in 2 consecutive 8-year Administrations. HRC did a phenomenal job, and she is not to be blamed for the loss of her party.
    2- In such circumstances, Trump proved that Big Money from “outsiders” will not help, regardless of how massive the amounts.
    3- When mainstream America (or any other country, for that matter) start feeling that conditions around them are “No longer the way things were during the good ‘ole days”, it is time to pay attention.
    4- When the wealthiest class of society devotes no efforts to raise the rest of society from poverty, or near-poverty, or mediocrity, then the fissures of class divisions start a dangerous erosion.
    5- Neither our American people, nor any other people in the world are immune, when it comes to creating the monster of another “Hitler”. No people can claim sainthood, when it comes to abuse of others.
    6- Building “Bridges”, not “Walls” is the way to go, regardless of how difficult the issues.

    Let us pray that our country remains as a “Lighthouse” for all those seeking freedom, justice, human rights, and genuine peace.

  6. oldkahuna says:

    Thomas Friedman rarely speaks with wisdom…and I think he is still in denial here.

    The obsession of the DNC with winning the primary in the worst ways possible, the love of the media for a shallow and continuous buffoon, and the unseen rage of the citizens of all political stripes have resulted in what each wanted.

    For the rest of us we will not say, “I told you so.” We will wrap the hurting in our arms and hearts; we will do what we can to right the wrongs; we will refuse to be coopted by racism, sexism, or any other ism; we will welcome the refugee; we will sing the songs of Yahweh in a Strange Land; we will run and not be weary.

  7. Jim Patterson says:

    Thanks for your thoughts, Jim

  8. Janet Gunn says:

    oldkahuna says it! “Strange Land” indeed. But Trump is only a symptom, not a cause. Look again, for instance, at the other Strange Land.

  9. Samia Khoury says:

    As a Palestinian, it is faith that has sustained us all through those long years of dispossession. But maybe this election should be a
    a wake up call to America and the need to reflect on the system of elections.
    We have a saying in Arabic إذا ما خربت ما بتعمر it cannot be rebuilt until the rotten structure goes to ruin.

  10. J. Martin Bailey says:

    Great wisdom in both Jim Wall’s essay and in the responses. Thanks to all. “For me and my house.” (i.e. Betty and I are agreed that…) we will seek to keep the faith, to reach out to the world around us, and challenge our children and grand children, and one great grand child, not to give up seeking peace by sharing our lives and livelihood. We must be watchful, to be sure. There ARE demons in many places. But in the final analysis there is Faith, HOPE, and Love.

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