I don’t think many would argue against the observation that there is a growing animosity between “we the people” and the powers that be in government. I am not a political hack, nor do I intend to use my voice for political purposes; however, I will address the issue of God and government simply because the Bible does. In particular, I wish to point out two realities we discover in Romans 13:1-7 and then offer suggested application related to one particular issue in our own context.
After making the case for the common malady of all humanity, namely, that all are guilty and condemned equally because of sin, and, after pointing to the solution provided for both Jew and Gentile – a crucified, buried, risen Savior (Rom. 1-11), Paul then offers to believers ways to live out the implications of their new life in Jesus (Rom. 12-16). This practical application section includes instructions on how a Christian should view and relate to the human institution of government.
1. God is the Authority behind human authorities – even pagan ones.
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (Rom. 13:1, ESV)
This is a particularly difficult issue for me to wrap my mind around. In this verse, Paul is telling believers to obey a pagan, Roman Emperor, Nero at that time, as well as other pagan authorities. Jew and Gentile alike in the known world of that day were under Roman domination. Paul attributes the choice of Nero to God Himself and commands the First Century Christians to “be subject” to him. I am reminded of Jesus’ answer to Pilate in John 19:10-11 when asked, ”You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” (John 19:10, ESV) Jesus’ reply corresponds to the theological reality found in our passage under discussion. “Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. ” (John 19:11, ESV)
Christians in the USA on the left and the right typically have something to say and a voice of criticism to offer when the person at the top of the Executive Branch is not to their liking; however, if I am reading Rom. 13 correctly, whomever the President is has been chosen by God Himself. Perhaps even more dramatically, I am very confused when I see on the world stage leaders of countries who demonstrate the willingness to harm their own people, such as apparently is the case currently in Syria. I see the reality of the millions of refugees, many of whom are children (http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=40997), and I am left to wonder why God has allowed (picked?) those rulers to be in power. Perhaps some things are not for us to know? What we do know is that God expects Christians to be subject to authorities, even when they are pagans, recognizing that they are agents and ministers of God and thus due our honor and our taxes (see verses 6-7).
2. God puts authorities in place for the good of society in the common kingdoms of mankind.
“Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” (Rom. 13:2–4, ESV)
It is true that the Kingdom of God has broken into this world. John prepared the way for the King by telling people to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 3:2) Later, Jesus Himself told the 72 when He commissioned them to ministry that part of their message was to include the following, “The kingdom of God has come near you.” (Luke 10:9) But we realize as we look at the suffering and degradation across our globe that the Kingdom of God has not fully taken over. As a matter of fact, we understand that until the kingdoms and governments of this world are completely under the immediate rule of the King of kings then we will see abuses in power and corruption. In the meantime, we certainly long for the day when the victorious declaration of Rev. 11:15 is in fact reality, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”
While we wait longingly for the King to take residence and fix the mess we are in, we are left with the authorities and governments that God has established for the good of societies. Generally speaking, if a person obeys the law they live in peace; however, if a person rebels then they may suffer the just consequence of their actions. Ultimately, again, we must point out in the above passage that it is God we are obeying or disobeying when we obey or disobey the laws of the land in which we reside.
According to Ben Knockles, founder of Project 111 (http://111project.org/), there are currently 10,600 kids currently in the custody of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. This means that 10,600 kids have personally experienced God’s hand of rescue in their lives, not necessarily spiritually, but temporally. The adverse experiences (http://www.acestudy.org/) of these children would make one ill. Abuses that have come to them in the home have many times scarred them for life. They are our wounded “innocents.” God – by the grace of His arm of human government – reached into “homes” that were places of abuse and neglect and lifted out these “innocents” and put them in the care of the human institution of government.
Does this mean that our foster system is flawless or these “rescued” kid’s situations are now ideal? Far from it! It simply means that there are those parents who have broken laws related to the care of their children and they have experienced the “sword of punishment” from the government. Most children in state’s care have a goal of being reunited with their biological parents. Many times parents are able to get their act together and get their children back. We celebrate this when it is a healthy situation. Who would not want to see a broken family renewed? There are many other children, however, who have their permanency goal changed from reunification to adoption.
My point? The Church and individual followers of Jesus need to take a more active role in caring for children’s in-state’s care. As we do this, we just may also discover that we become the means by which God rescues a child spiritually just as He has done temporally.