I glanced at the news channel just before we were to leave for our church’s Valentine banquet, and it was obvious that the tone had changed, and for good reason: Antonin Scalia was dead. The news hit me like a ton of bricks, and hung over me like a dark cloud. Scalia was the longest-tenured member of the United States Supreme Court, appointed by President Reagan, and reflective of that, he was its most conservative member, often writing the opinion reflective of constitutional, and Biblical values. His vote on the crucial issues of the day (many of them decided by 5-4 votes) could be counted on, from abortion to traditional marriage, and suddenly, he was gone — found dead on his Texas ranch that February night. Southern Baptist Seminary professor Denny Burk wrote of Scalia’s death that “When I first saw the news yesterday, it was like a punch in the gut. But not like a normal punch in the gut. It’s more like a punch in the gut that damages the internal organs. There are consequences that long outlast the initial shock.” That’s exactly how I felt.
But also like Burk, the Lord soon reminded me of a scripture that fit this scenario perfectly: Isaiah 6:1, which begins, “In the year that King Uzziah died …”. King Uzziah had been king over God’s people for 52 years, and historians regard his reign as one of peace and prosperity. Generations of Israelites had taken those blessings, and his benevolent leadership, for granted. And suddenly he was gone, and the future looked very uncertain — much like the death of Antonin Scalia in our day.
But what spoke to my heart next was the rest of that verse in Isaiah: “In the year that King Uzziah died — I saw the LORD, lofty and exalted, the train of His robe filling the temple.” And Isaiah goes on to describe one of the most magnificent, classic revelations of the glory of God in all of scripture. And I was reminded that this is where our hope needs to be today: not in kings — or even in conservative court justices — but in the “holy, holy, holy” God who revealed Himself to Isaiah, and to us through His word.
That our hope is in God does not mean that we shouldn’t encourage our senators to do all they can to ensure that a new, conservative justice will take Scalia’s place. It certainly does not mean that we shouldn’t do our best to elect a president who will appoint such justices. In fact it should sober our perspectives and our votes this election year, as it is a fresh reminder that Presidential elections have lasting consequences: the person we elect may well appoint Scalia’s replacement, and others, to our nation’s highest court. And it does not keep thoughtful souls from wondering if the removal of such a man as Scalia from our midst by God’s providence is not an evidence of His hand of judgment upon our land — and a portend of more to come. But it is a reminder that our ultimate hope is not in men, whom James says are “a vapor, that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” (James 4:14)
And it call us in our own unsettling times to continually lift up our eyes like Isaiah did, to the same God who is still on His glorious throne in the year that Antonin Scalia died.