A Spirit Divided

In light of the current campaign cycle, I’ve been struggling with a theological conundrum:

How is it possible that one Christian feels the Holy Spirit is leading him to vote in one way, and yet another Christian feels the Holy Spirit is leading him to do something different? Can the Spirit be divided against itself?

This is not a new dilemma, by any means; I’m sure the church body has been wrestling with this issue since Pentecost.

It’s not even a novel problem within the scope of American history. There were wise and pious men on both sides of the Revolutionary War, of the Civil War.

Now I must admit in a bit of laziness in not doing the proper research into any publications prior to writing this; the Muse struck me quickly and I feel compelled to write first, and research later. If you are aware of any apologetics on this subject I would welcome the reference.

And of course, there is a deeper root issue here: how can believers receive different or contrary guidance from the Spirit? But for now I will simplify the discussion by limiting it to democracy.

How can believers receive guidance from the Holy Spirit and yet vote in contrary ways?

I can think of 2 explanations for this:

1) the Spirit has a single notion, but some believers are faulty in receiving it
2) the Spirit is causing each believer to receive direction custom-tailored to his own unique situation

Let us examine the implications of each.

The Faulty Receiver

This explanation is appealing at first, because it gives us the excuse to be self-righteous: “Of course I’m right, and he’s wrong! I am obviously closer to God, having correctly felt the Spirit’s guidance!” But this is the ungenerous interpretation. The flip-side of this explanation is the humbler one: “How can another believer be led differently than I? Am I the one who’s wrong? I must reexamine my assumptions and consider the contrary opinion”. It also fits with the fact that we are all imperfect and flawed and must at times fail at interpreting the will of God.

The Postmodern Postman

Postmodernism is a dirty word to the Church. It implies that each person has their own unique subjective truth, and that objective truth does not exist. But in this context it might apply thusly: Each believer may receive a notion from the Spirit that differs from others’, such that obedience to that direction brings the maximum fulfillment of God’s purposes. Now, despite the vote being a private, secret, hidden action, there are no shortage of people willing to talk about their vote; and bringing it into the open allows for discussion, enlightenment, and evangelism. But it is contrary to the idea of unity in Christ, unity of the body, and moving together as one- that believers could be directed to work at odds to each other.

(there is also a corollary explanation that the Spirit is wanting to cause an unexpected outcome by confusing the vote – certainly a possibility given recent events)

Now the astute among you have probably noticed that these two explanations are not mutually exclusive: both can be true simultaneously. Believers can be confused; AND the Spirit can direct each believer differently. I suggest that this is what we’re seeing today. Some are supporting Trump for the right reasons; some are supporting Trump for the wrong reasons; and so on, for each candidate.

So what is the answer? The admixture of both explanations, I suspect. But of course, I am open to considering contrary opinions.

Therefore, what are we to do about this?

Much of what we’re currently doing, I hope:

  • Be humble and consider the possibility that the other person may be correct and you may be wrong
  • Be gracious in the discussion of the differences in reasoning between imperfect people
  • Be mindful that some differences may not be reconciled, and that it is possible for the Spirit’s guidance to move in multiple ways
  • Be prayerful in our words and deeds and find hope in that God has our lives in his hands, no matter the outcome

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