Our Democracy and God's Sovereignty
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.
Now that we’ve had time to process the recent mid-term elections, it might be helpful to look at the bigger picture of the Christian’s relationship to our governing authorities. The Apostle Paul penned these words while the cruel emperor Nero was on the throne in Rome. While most scholars of history believe Nero’s persecution of Christians and other religions was still in the not-too-distant future, there were foreboding signs of what was to come. Paul had already felt the impact of the oppressive government of Rome. It is amazing that he wrote these words on obedience to government after being mistreated recently himself by the Roman authorities at Philippi (Acts 16:37).
In many ways the Christian’s view of government is much more complex in our country today than it was for Paul in first century Rome. For the Early Church there was no hope of influencing anyone in a position of power; there was no local representative that could be elected and trusted to bring to Rome the best interests of those who voted him into office. There was also no system of checks and balances that our government employs today. But then again, they also didn’t have to endure negative and even ludicrous political advertisements!
Because Paul and every other believer had no say in who ruled them it is tempting to think it must have been easier for him and fellow believers to submit to that government than it is for us. And perhaps it was. Because we do have a say in who governs us we may conclude that Paul’s words above are culturally non-relevant for us. In terms of our subjection to governing authorities today, it’s tempting to draw a line between authorities God has established and the ones we have voted into office. Here are three questions that I think are important to consider before we draw such a line.
First, does the application of subjection in light of Romans 13:1-2 change simply because we have more influence in our form of government today? If Paul states that all authority has been established by God, whether through democracy or political tyrant or any other system on the spectrum, are we not called to submit? Just because “the people have spoken” in electing certain leaders does not mean God has been silent. All authority is ultimately under His control.
Second, how do we know God cannot work in the heart of any leader? Proverbs 21:1 states: “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He will.” In the OT book of Daniel we read of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, who besieged Jerusalem but was himself humbled into submission by God for the plans and purposes of His people and His kingdom. He may not always choose to do so, but God can drastically work in the internal workings of any leader, just as we are told He is at work in the external circumstances of their rise to power.
Finally, how do we know adversity that arises as a result of government cannot serve as an effective platform for God’s work? Paul stated in Philippians 1:12-13 that his imprisonment actually served to advance the Gospel. Should we assume God cannot do on a broader level what he did for Paul on a personal level if adversity arises as a result of our country’s leadership?
I hope everyone had a chance to get out and vote last week. I hope everyone will continue to follow their conscience and even exercise civil disobedience if our government tries to force us to violate our biblical convictions. But I also hope that as Christians those biblical convictions include submitting to our elected officials, whether we voted for them or not. And, let’s also remember we have many reasons to pray for them, including the ones I’ve mentioned above.
In this season of Thanksgiving we can be thankful we live in a country where we have a hand in who governs us. But let us not forget whose hand is ultimately responsible. At least there’s one question we can all answer in agreement: “Aren’t we all relieved the political ads are over for now?!”