In a democracy like ours – where we choose our leadership – in an election cycle like this one following an administration like Obama’s, some Bible passages are pretty hard to swallow:
Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. (Rom 13:1-2)
In the first place opposition is a part of the democratic process, but moreover, who wants to believe that God established this current mess? Fortunately Paul goes on:
For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. (Rom 13:3-7)
So, when he talks about “opposition,” he is talking about open rebellion like failing to pay taxes, or worse – he is not talking about political opposition of the kind we routinely practice in a democracy. But still, who wants to believe that God established this mess? And all that talk about “good” – can we believe that our government is an agent for good when those that stand for obviously good things are punished by the government? And yet Jesus made a similar claim:
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, (Matt 28:18-19)
So if Jesus really has “all authority in heaven and on earth,” then he really must have established this mess. But it is so hard to swallow.
I cannot begin to fathom why God is operating in history in the fashion he is at this moment, and I will not attempt to do so. As God said to the prophet Isaiah:
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts. (Is 55:8-9)
It would be folly for me to try and figure out what God is up to. But there are a couple of observations I can make in light of all of this. Firstly, note that the claims of authority, whether for the government or by Christ Himself are followed with instructions to us. Paul urges us to do what is good. Jesus commands us to make disciples. That would suggest to me that a little less focus on the government and a lot more focus on doing good and making disciples might be in order. I read both these passages as God saying “Look I got this government stuff, you get busy being the church.” In a democracy we vote and we advocate, that is part of being a good citizen, but we have got to understand that our primary duty lies elsewhere.
The second observation is that if I am having a hard time believing that God has got a handle on this mess, then I am having a faith crisis – the problem is most assuredly not God’s. Back to that Isaiah passage for a minute; we cannot, seriously cannot, understand what God is up to – that’s what the passage is saying. But we should know God well enough to trust that whatever He is up to is good. If we do not have that trust, then we do not know God as well as we should and that is where we should place our focus.
Jesus also said:
Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. (Matt 11:28)
Certainly this Sunday morning I need to give my heavy burden to Christ and accept His rest.