Friday, October 13, 2006

God is not a monster: the purpose of civil government

“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”—Genesis 1:31

“For everything God created is good” (1 Timothy 4:4).

If everything God made is good, then logically it follows that He cannot be the author of evil. And if God cannot be the author of evil, how is it possible that He would purposefully establish evil governments or install wicked leaders into office?

The answer, I believe, is that He doesn’t.

The first biblical reference to earthly government occurs in Genesis 9:5-6: “And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.”

Here we see that the purpose of government is to punish evil acts of aggression against innocent persons. Romans 13 reiterates the God-ordained role of government as a minister of justice:

“For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (vv. 3-4).

Likewise, 1 Peter 2:13 defines rulers as those “who are sent by [God] to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.”

By its definition, then, civil government was created as God’s minister to serve humanity: to restrain evil by punishing criminals and to protect/commend law-abiding citizens. It was never intended to be used for evil or to hurt people. Bible commentator Matthew Henry wrote, “In the general course of human affairs, rulers are not a terror to honest, quiet, and good subjects, but to evildoers. Such is the power of sin and corruption, that many will be kept back from crimes only by the fear of punishment.”

“God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, hath ordained civil magistrates … for His own glory, and the public good: and, to this end, hath armed them with the power of the sword, for the defense and the encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evildoers”(Lex Rex, A Defense of Liberty Against Tyrants, in “Of the Civil Magistrate”).

Since government was instituted by God to uphold justice, it seems logical to conclude that governments which abuse their powers and commit injustice are not ordained of God. Once a government ceases fulfilling its God-ordained mandate to be a minister of justice, it is no longer of God, because it is in rebellion against Him.

Indeed, a careful reading of Romans 13 reveals that while God ordained the institution of government, not all governments are ordained of God. This is especially apparent in the NIV Bible, which translates Romans 13:1 as: “…there is no authority except that which God has established” (emphasis mine). In other words, the only legitimate authorities are those that have been instituted by God, that is, those who uphold justice and defend the innocent from aggression.

For those who insist on believing that a righteous God would raise up tyrants such as Nero, Caligula, Oliver Cromwell, Mao Tze Tung, Kim Jong Il and Saddam Hussein, let’s take a look at Hosea 8:4:

“They set up kings without my consent; they choose princes without my approval.”

This verse clearly states that not everyone who happens to sit on a throne—or in the Oval Office—was put in that position by God. There is a vast difference between duly constituted authority, which is established by God, and power that has been gained illegitimately, or usurped. Tyrants always operate outside the law and see themselves as being above the law, including God's Law. In fact, one of the definitions of a tyrant in Merriam-Webster is "a ruler unrestrained by law…"

The God who sent His precious Son to die for me is not a monster. He is completely good, kind, loving, and just. If God put bloodthirsty dictators into power, it would make Him the author of evil. This is not only heresy—it is also blasphemy.

What of verses which appear to state that God raises up all political leaders, regardless of how corrupt and degenerate they are? Let’s look at some of these passages.

“By me kings reign, and princes decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, and even all the judges of the earth” (Proverbs 8:15-16).

“No one from the east or the west or from the desert can exalt a man. But it is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another” (Psalm 75:6-7).

“He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them” (Daniel 2:21).

At first glance, we might conclude that these Scriptures are saying that anyone who happens to be in political office was specifically placed in that position by the Lord. But, taken in context with Romans 13 and related passages, what they are really saying is that all legitimate authority is derived from God. As Pastor John Weaver writes in The Christian and Civil Government, “If God does not give an individual authority, then he does not have any authority” (p. 4). It is God who puts rulers in power, but just because someone claims to be in charge does not mean he has received any real authority from God.

Think of it this way: if someone other than your boss started ordering you around, would that mean this person had legitimate authority to do so? When the Nazis were sending men, women and children to the gas chambers, were they acting under God’s authority?

I think the answer is obvious.

Relevant Scriptures:

“The God of Israel said, ‘…He who rules over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God” (2 Samuel 23:2-3, NKJ).

The queen of Sheba to King Solomon: “Praise be to the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the LORD's eternal love for Israel, he has made you king, to maintain justice and righteousness” (1 Kings 10:8-9).

“It is an abomination for kings to commit wickedness, For a throne is established by righteousness” (Proverbs 16:12, NKJ).

“Shall the throne of iniquity, which devises evil by law, have fellowship with you? They gather against the life of the righteous, and condemn innocent blood. But the Lord has been our defense … He has brought on them their own iniquity, and shall cut them off in their own wickedness; the Lord shall cut them off” (Psalm 94: 20-30).

“‘Woe to the city of oppressors, rebellious and defiled! She obeys no one, she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the LORD, she does not draw near to her God. Her officials are roaring lions; her rulers are ravening wolves, who leave nothing for the morning. . . The LORD within her is righteous; he does no wrong. Morning by morning he dispenses his justice, and every new day he does not fail, yet the unrighteous know no shame’” (Zephaniah 3:1-5).

“Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless” (Isaiah 10:1-4).
“The LORD enters into judgment against the elders and leaders of the people: “It is you who have ruined my vineyard; the plunder from the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor?” declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty” (Isaiah 3:10-15).

Recommended reading:

The Christian and Civil Government, by Pastor John Weaver

A Christian Manifesto, by Francis Schaeffer

Lex, Rex: A Dispute for the Just Prerogative of King and People, by Rev. Samuel Rutherford (also known as The Law and the Prince)


Blogger Beth said...

Amen and amen. Thank you for this thorough and careful look at something I already believed (based on knowing my Father), but had never carefully studied out in Scripture.

October 16, 2006 12:10 PM  
Blogger CrimsonLine said...

Julie, I've been insanely busy and continue to be, so my ability to write has been severely compromised. Heck, my ability to -think- has been severely compromised! On first blush, you have some interesting ideas here, I don't think I agree with you on many of the things you've set down, but I need time to study it - time I just don't have. Your reading of Romans 13:1 seems eccentric to me for some reason. I think the plain reading of that text is that there IS no ruler that God did not in some way establish, but I don't believe that makes him responsible for those leaders' actions. I will try to get the time to think and respond better. I'm so overwhelmed!

October 16, 2006 1:02 PM  
Anonymous Mithrandir said...

I fully agree with Julie’s analysis. If God established every monster that ever ruled over a nation – and there have been some absolutely horrible examples – that would make Him a monster, and that can’t be. Frankly, I think this verse which was already quoted, Hosea 8:4, makes it perfectly clear:
“They set up kings without my consent; they choose princes without my approval.”
Well, if rulers can come into power without God’s approval, then He didn’t establish them. Why are so many Christians so confused about this?

October 17, 2006 1:11 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

Thanks for backing me up, Beth and Mithrandir. I was going to remind crimsonline about the quote from Hosea, which pretty much clinches the argument; thanks for saving me the trouble, Mithrandir.

If my reading of Romans 13 is eccentric, I must be in good company because John Calvin said pretty much the same thing: "For though tyrannies and unjust exercise of power, as they are full of disorder, are not an ordained government."

October 17, 2006 4:59 PM  
Blogger CrimsonLine said...

:) I haven't forgotten about the Hosea quote, I just haven't had time to really look at it in context. And John Calvin is great company to be in, though he could be idiosyncratic as well. For example, Calvin believed there was no contemporary relevance to the book of Revelation. None. :)

So, he's not a slam dunk.

I'm hoping to have more time next week to look at this closely.

October 18, 2006 8:33 PM  

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