You wouldn’t believe the number of times I had to spell out p-o-l-l after enthusiastically telling friends that I had been recruited as a poll worker.
It started out with all the best intentions. I’m young, female, and have no pre-existing conditions besides horrible pun-itis (is it that I suffer greatly from my pun-peddling or that the puns themselves are horrible? You decide). I’m also poor and had no rotations going on in the weeks leading up to Election Day, so I was the perfect candidate for staffing a voting site. Plus, I’m a big fan of representative government and stuff. So I submitted my application. Lo and behold, my inconvenient honesty landed me an assignment as none other than a Chinese interpreter—I was so certain I had put down less than native fluency—and I grunted and strained my way through the training, painstakingly drawing out unfamiliar characters into Pleco and memorizing the gawky, unwieldy transliterations for candidates in my district. (Fun fact, I now live in Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s district, and her Chinese name is thirteen characters long.) Illiterate yet surprisingly fluent as I am, I had written out a three-page long pinyin cheat sheet. Then I waited for election season to start in New York City.
The week before early voting started, I still hadn’t gotten my assigned poll working hours yet. I called the Board of Elections twice. On Wednesday, it went like: “Hi, I’m signed up as a poll worker, but I haven’t gotten an assignment yet. Can I make sure I didn’t do anything wrong in sign-up?” “We’re WORKING on it, be PATIENT.” *click* On Friday (Saturday was the first early voting day), I got transferred to three different people before someone finally picked up, looked up my record, and discovered that because of a minute technicality, I couldn’t work the polls.
As a consolation prize, I submitted R’s and my ballot and on my way out, someone was giving away free Starbucks drinks, colored red, white and blue. It tasted like representation. As I got back to my car, a police officer just warned me that my car was parked in the wrong place, and drove away without ticketing me. So all in all, between poll-working snafus and polling place boons, I came out rather even-handed.
I’ve been studying Zechariah slowly while knitting a sweater, and it was a more than timely word. The penultimate book of the Old Testament, Zechariah’s prophecies to Israel were messages during a time of great suffering. Israel was in captivity, a fate decided by Jehovah. But Zechariah painted a picture of God as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords—by whose slightest whim oceans rise and empires fall. Jehovah promised Israel a future in which their nation would be restored, and the ones who had taken them into captivity would receive their just deserts. Yet in the midst of God pledging to dry up the Nile and making Israel a flaming torch among sheaves, Zechariah 12:1 is enigmatic, a non sequitur: “The burden of the word concerning Israel. Thus declares Jehovah, who stretches forth the heavens and lays the foundations of the earth and forms the spirit of man within him.”
Orchestrating war and sculpting the power structures of humanity is work fitting to an entity that formed the heavens and earth. But what does the spirit of man have to do with it? If God can birth worlds with His hand, shatter dynasties with the slightest nudge of a finger, how can a work done by a breath in a fragile mortal container (Gen. 2:7) be ranked in the same sentence, in the same breath? The Life-Study of Zechariah, message 12 states that these three items are equally important. Without the heavens, earth could not exist. But without the human spirit to contact and receive God, laying the foundations of the earth would be a meaningless abstraction. The context of the verse is also important. God has ruled over human politics for age after age. But without the human spirit to receive God, to understand His heart, and to live out His plan, the vagaries of history would be meaningless, absurdist, and cruel.
I have never believed that God’s choices, especially in laws, in wars, and in elections, were an expression of His desires. The Bible is consistent. Jehovah mourns with His people when they suffer; He asks His people to care for vulnerable populations, like the widowed, the poor, the orphaned, the sojourners; as a man, He spent most of His ministry touching the untouchable and preaching a radical, anti-establishment agenda. But He also righteously avenges nations that oppress and righteously chastises His people when they abandon Him. If I were God, I wouldn’t use His methods. What’s the point of omnipotence and omniscience if I can’t wreak my will without war, without poverty, famine, sickness, or bloodshed? Surely a God of His power could optimize the means to the end. But I’m not the potter. I’m the vessel. “O man, who are you to answer back to God?” (Rom. 9:20) “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and untraceable are His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has become His counselor?” I’ll never know why God allowed a human history scarred by genocide, abuse, and villainy. But through my human spirit, I can know God. First Corinthians even says in chapter two, “the spiritual man discerns all things… for who has known the mind of the Lord and will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.” Through my spirit, I can know His love for my neighbor, and let Him love my neighbor through me. Through my spirit, I can let Him have a foothold in my being, a rootlet of light in a darkening world. Through my spirit, I can take the promises hidden in the Word—that, as obscure as the world situation seems to be, God is behind the scenes working to gain our hearts and to reclaim a world terminally infected by human evil.
As the world watches the 2020 American election with be-masked, bemused, bated breath, I was reminded that no matter what the result, no matter what riots, what outcry (and what mass immigration attempts to Canada, whose covid travel ban will find new uses), the human spirit is the fulcrum between meaning and vanity. Anything can happen in a world built on sinking sand, but the One in charge has also given us an anchor, an unshakeable kingdom, in the human spirit. First Corinthians assures us that God’s wisdom is in a mystery. It is not a wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are being brought to nought. But things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which has not come up in man’s heart, God has revealed to those who love Him, through His Spirit. His Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God—for who among man knows the things of man, except the spirit of man which is in him?