Not so long ago, most people believed God would one day bring the world to an end. Nowadays we think that humanity will do it. I’ll let you be the judge of what this says about our estimation of God and ourselves. At this point, apocalyptic language is so pervasive that it’s become clichéd, leading us to reach for modest substitutes. There’s the ever-reliable “crisis” language, which can be handily grafted onto any field or domain we wish to lament (e.g., “crisis in the church,” “crisis in higher education,” “crisis in the humanities,” “crisis in politics”). Mark Greif has written extensively on the subject.

And don’t even get me started on unprecedented. Or how about civilization? In this sense, we are not approaching the end of the world as we know it nor are we facing a cultural crisis that’s entirely without precedent. No, we inhabit a “civilizational moment.” Add to this the sober talk about “cultural collapse,” “decadence,” and “disintegration.” What’s clear is that for many people, the prognosis is grim, things are bleak, and the future is a source of trepidation rather than hope. We cannot afford to sit idly by. We must act.

To those tempted to take a tragic view this election season, I would counter that the Christian vision of reality is, in fact, a comic one.

It’s against this backdrop that Dr. Mark DeVine argues we ought to take a tragic view of history and see a figure like Donald J. Trump in roughly the same terms as General George Patton, Douglas MacArthur, and William Tecumseh Sherman: “The tragic view periodically assesses the character and greatness of threats to civilization such that extraordinary means are needed and sought in order to resist and quash them.” In other words, “Desperate times call for desperate measures.” According to this tragic view, we struggle against titanic forces and we do so largely on our own. Clashes between tribes and nations end with the destruction of one side. It’s a zero-sum game. To think otherwise is to delude oneself.

Desperate times also provoke desperate acts of creativity. Thus, we’ve seen efforts to convert Trump into King Cyrus and arguments that Dietrich Bonhoeffer would have voted for him. And now we have an attempt to dress him up like a ruthless general. For all intents and purposes, these exotic wardrobe changes come across as little more than a clever strategy for allowing craven political expediency to masquerade as sober realism. At any rate, for tragedian Trumpists, no longer do you hold your nose and vote. You step, with grim resignation, into that booth knowing that you don’t have the luxury of entertaining moral scruples about “voting your conscience.” After all, civilization hangs in the bounds.

But does it?

For the sake of clarity, let’s single out one of the most (in)famous tragic heroes: Oedipus. Though the story of Oedipus was not original to Sophocles, the genius of his particular telling of the tale is that he made the story turn, not on the cruel hands of fate that crush the hero, but rather, on Oedipus’s discovery and recognition that he had in fact already fulfilled the prophecy of the Oracle at Delphi.

Oedipus brings all of his heroic qualities—courage, intelligence, perseverance—to the task of uncovering the truth, and this heroic quest is the source of his undoing. Towering nobility thus meets unyielding culpability. The little freedom to which Oedipus lays claim consists in his ability to stare directly into his abject condition. It’s an immensely moving conclusion that resonates deeply with anyone who’s ever devoted serious thought to the mysterious relationship between human freedom and moral agency. It’s also a vision that’s foreign to Christianity.

If we restrict our gaze to the brittle light of history (and especially military history), then it’s hard to argue with some iteration of the tragic view. Great empires rise and fall. Peace is rare, fragile, and comes at the cost of abundant bloodshed. This is generally what folks have in mind when they rattle off a phrase like “Freedom isn’t free.” In civilizational moments, we can either face grim reality or pitch our tent with the utopians and face extinction for our efforts. Fortunately, Christians are not faced with a decision between a tragic vision and a utopian one, between Athens and Arcadia.

In sharp contrast to the noble trappings of tragedy, which involve royal palaces and bloodstained battlefields, comedy is concerned with ordinary people going about their ordinary business in kitchens, bathrooms, and bedrooms. Naturally, this is the stuff of laughter. In the words of Montaigne, “And on the loftiest throne in the world we are still sitting only on our own rump.” The fact that the majority of today’s thrones are made of porcelain only strengthens his point.

However, the chief distinguishing mark of comedy does not consist in humor, but rather, in the happy ending. From Aristophanes’s The Birds to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a good deal of the pleasure we take in great comedies comes from the final resolution offered by their happy endings. True, the characters may lack Oedipus’s nobility and grace, but unlike him, their flaws are not all that they have left at the story’s end. Rather, their deliverance comes through their foibles and weaknesses. For Christians, this should sound strangely familiar.

In Scripture, we encounter a comic vision of reality. The nation of Israel traces its origin to 90-year-old Sarah. This little nation is then led out of captivity by a stammering man who spent forty years in exile after murdering an Egyptian. Christ, the Lord of all creation, comes to us in the form of a helpless babe and proceeds to build His church on the rock of Peter, a man who repeatedly put his foot in his mouth and denied Him three times. The triumph of our Lord comes about not through the sword, but the cross. 

Conspicuously lacking in the heroes of the faith are any of the noble qualities that characterize our greatest tragic figures. Instead, the biblical vision reveals that God has chosen the foolish things of this world to confound the wise and the weak to shame the strong (1 Corinthians 1:27). Most importantly, Christian men and women know that the story has a happy ending: a cosmic consummation in which God will judge the quick and the dead, wipe away every tear, and make all things new. In a masterful essay on the subject, Daniel Russ argues:

The archetypal comic plot—order to chaos to order—is the form of the scriptural canon. God’s people begin in a garden in right relationship with Him, fall through their foolish pride, attain redemption by the unlikely incarnation of God Himself, and come finally to a city which contains the original garden.

To those tempted to take a tragic view this election season, I would counter that the Christian vision of reality is, in fact, a comic one. We are not locked with our political opponents in a zero-sum game that necessitates “extraordinary means” or the temporary bracketing of one’s prophetic witness. The universe we inhabit is roomier than that because Christ has made it so.

If He has not left us as orphans, then we need not sacrifice our conscience on the altar of political expediency. We are free to fulfill our duties as citizens knowing that Christ remains on his throne regardless of who occupies the Oval Office. A tragic world may not be big enough for a “third way,” but a comic one is.

To be sure, this allegiance to Christ and his kingdom does not preclude suffering, but that suffering does not have the last word. The current state of our nation is indeed grim, but those who belong to Christ are free to live in the light of the promise of his happy ending.