They will tell you that it is
The 2016 presidential election is less than a year away, and the two major parties are in full campaign mode as they work to select their respective candidates. The Republican field is massive, and twelve different candidates participated in Tuesday's debates. The democratic field is much smaller with only three candidates set to participate in tomorrow's debate. Throughout this election cycle, you will inevitably hear candidates say that this is the most important election of your lifetime. If not that exact statement, you will hear rhetoric that is similar.
We have heard it said election after election. During the 2012 cycle, Dennis Prager wrote, "The usual description of presidential elections -- 'the most important in our lifetime' -- is true this time. In fact, it may be the most important election since the Civil War, and possibly since America's founding."
Ronald Reagan said of the '84 election "I think it's the most important choice we've face in history."
Truman said of the '52 election, "I am campaigning for the Democratic ticket because this is the most important election... since the Civil War."
[You can read more similar quotes here.]
But is it? Is it really the most important election of our lifetime?
It does matter, but not that much
It may or may not be the most important election, but in the end, it doesn't matter. Regardless if Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Marco Rubio or some other candidate wins the presidential nomination next November, God is in control and His purposes will stand.
When the Israelites were taken into captivity, they felt a level of despair that far outpaced the sort of sorrow we should feel next fall if "our candidate" doesn't win the election. And yet, God says that even Cyrus, a foreign ruler, was going to be used as an instrument of God's purposes (Isaiah 45:1-13). God used Cyrus as his device "to subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings (Isaiah 45:1)." Eventually, Cyrus gave a decree that enabled the Israelites to go back to their home (2 Chronicles 36:22-23). Even the ruler of Israel's captives was not outside the sovereignty of our God.
Nearly 3,000 years of history have passed between the events involving Cyrus and now. And our young country has been around for less than 250 of those years. This election does matter, but let's be honest, the world will go on as it has for many centuries, and God is still in charge. In the world God has created, the government is an extremely important institution. It has a unique and necessary function, but no matter who our next president is going to be, God is still in control.
How do we respond to the election?
Knowing that God is in control and recognizing that we will continue to see election after election being tagged as "the most important election in our lifetime," does not mean that we should not care? No, we should care a great deal, and we should be invested and informed. We should know the candidates, what they stand for and the measure of their character. The government can be a force for both good and bad in the world. As Christians, we are called to do what we can to ensure it brings good (which is consistent with God), rather than evil (which is opposed to God).
How we represent ourselves and engage in conversation is important. Do we speak with respect? Or do we spew slander and hatred? Do we genuinely seek the good of people, or are we more concerned about our own power and privilege? Christians have had a large voice in American politics over the past 50-60 years, and have shaped the outcome of multiple elections. As the political power of the Religious Right wanes, the way Christians continue to engage in the public sphere is important. Power and privilege are not necessary to follow Jesus well in this country.
In order to participate in the political conversation well, you should be informed. I have watched every debate so far, and I will continue to watch them. I encourage you to watch them as well. You can see them all here. I also try to read about the candidates and make sure I am aware of what is happening politically. You can read more here. We should be well informed and we should care about what happens. Our biblical values should influence how we vote and the way we conduct ourselves in the public sphere.
But we need to remember that ultimately God is in control. Jesus will build his church, "and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Mt 16:18)." It matters, but not that much. We should care, but we should not be afraid of the outcome.