“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.” Romans 13:1 (NASB)
Now, let’s establish something up front: placed in context, this verse does not demand that we always obey earthly kings and governments. Whether you compare it only to Acts 5:29 where Peter and the Apostles insist that obedience to God supersedes obedience to men or also to the grand context of Scripture where injustice and evil are to be resisted no matter the source, you cannot bandy this verse about to beat people into submission. This verse reflects that we ought to recognize that governing authority derives from God, but it does not require one to not try to improve the situation.
That being said, let us look more into this idea. Jesus is not an absentee King of this world. He is the King who reigns above all earthly powers. Whether you live in a representative democracy or an oppressive dictatorship, and for those of you who think you live in one that’s really the other, at the back of that authority is God’s allowance of it.
This is true whether the government does that which is righteous or that which is evil. Beyond the scope of this brief writing is the question of why God would allow a wicked authority to come to power. That’s a question that deserves great treatment, and I’d commend you to Randy Alcorn’s If God is Good for a theological treatment of the idea and to Eric Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy for a look at an individual who faced this issue with courage and resolve.
I see it this way: God allows human freedom. It is a messy thing to allow, for the freedom to do right requires collateral freedom to do wrong, and insulating choices from having an impact on anyone else removes real consequence from the actions. Without having to consider consequences, freedom is an illusion: one that cannot hurt also cannot help.
It is difficult to praise God for wicked kings. This was a challenge throughout the Old Testament, as God used wicked kings to accomplish His purposes. It is a challenge to this day, to accept that God has a purpose for the suffering and pain caused by wicked authorities to this day. Yet He is in charge.
When the various kings and potentates rose and fell between David and Daniel, He was in charge. When Antiochus lost Israel and when the Hasmoneans gave way to Roman General Pompey, He was not sleeping. When Augustus called for a census and when Herod the Great, Pilate, and Herod Antipas were appointed, He allowed them.
As the debates rage in the United States, as revolutions rise and fall across the globe, God is in control. His kingdom is not limited to a geographic realm or to a system of government. The followers of Christ recognize that even the worst of dictators are temporary: none will escape this world alive and all will answer to God for how they have handled what they were entrusted.
Followers of Christ give their utmost allegiance to Him. Our votes, our speeches, our revolutionary activity must come in submission and obedience to Him. We trust that if our political lords and masters choose to mete out vengeance and violence that our Heavenly King will honor His word and bring us justice in due time.
Scripture Passage for the Day: James 5:10-11 (ESV)
“As an example of suffering and patience, brothers,
take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast.
You have heard of the steadfastness of Job,
and you have seen the purpose of the Lord,
how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”
Song for the Day: Crown Him with Many Crowns #304
Prayer: Lord God, You are more than a lightweight, temporary ruler like the ones who appear to control this world. I know that I must deal with tyrants and crackpots in this life and I submit myself to live in a way that honors You, no matter what they demand or expect. Let me not waste efforts that should go into spreading Your truth on trifling matters, but let me also stand up and speak when justice and righteousness are at stake. Let the name of Jesus be the One Name I exalt, and in this name I pray. Amen