Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Tyranny and lawlessness: Can God ordain that which He hates?

Many Christians use Romans 13:1-7 as a proof text for the notion that it is God who brings bloodthirsty tyrants, brutal dictators, and oppressive regimes to power. Yet nowhere do these particular words appear in the actual text. On the contrary, the passage sets forth the proper role of government as a ministry of justice, instituted by God for the punishment of the wicked and the protection and praise of good citizens. If rulers are supposed to be God’s servants, it makes no sense to believe that so-called “authorities” which are in rebellion against Him were established by Him.

Romans 13 does not grant rulers open-ended powers to commit murder and mayhem. It does not validate governments which break the law or engage in acts that God hates—destroying innocent human life, showing partiality to the wicked or denying justice to the poor. When a civil government oppresses good people and fails to punish evil, it is no longer “God's servant to do you good. . . an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” Rather, it is an abomination that is operating in complete opposition to the Lord and His good purposes. “He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the just, both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD” (Proverbs 17:15, NKJ).

2 Thessalonians 2:1-4 warns of a coming “Man of Lawlessness” who will proclaim himself to be God. Likewise, the prophet Daniel describes a future king who will seize power through intrigue (11:21). This usurper “will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will say unheard-of things against the God of gods” (11:36, NIV). If we accept the idea that every person who happens to sit on a throne—no matter how depraved, blasphemous or violent—derives his power from God, then we are saying He is the author of evil and lawless governments. We are saying that He ordains rulers who would blaspheme Him and set themselves above Him—that He would bring into existence that which He hates.

Tyranny is essentially lawlessness. The Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines a tyrant as a ruler “unrestrained by law; a usurper of sovereignty.” Since God is our Lawgiver, He cannot be the author of lawlessness. If the purpose of government is to promote law and order in society, it follows that God would not ordain a government that openly flouts His laws by committing evil and bloodshed against innocent people.

At a time when most of earth’s inhabitants were oppressed by ruthless kings and pharaohs, the Law of Moses set forth the radical idea that all people—including rulers—are subject to the laws of God ( “But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens” (Exodus 18:21). Based on this verse, rulers are required to meet God’s standards of righteousness and justice.

As Pastor Weaver writes in The Christian and Civil Government,
“The jurisdiction, the authority and the power of God have no limits. But every delegated authority has certain limits. The power of God is infinite. The authority that God delegates is finite, it is limited; it is confined. There is absolutely no boundary to God’s authority, but there are boundaries to the delegated authority of man. God alone is sovereign. All kings, all princes, all governments are His vassals, His delegates.” Therefore, “every authority that exists is accountable and answerable to God” (4-5).

In the Book of Revelation, Satan is depicted as a “dragon” who “gave the beast [i.e., the antichrist] his power and his throne and great authority. . . Men worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast” (13:2-4, NIV). The beast also “was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them. And he was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation” (7).

According to these verses, who gave authority to the beast? Clearly it wasn’t God; it was Satan, the ultimate tyrant and usurper. For Christians who believe that God establishes every so-called government that will ever exist, this passage should create quite a quandary.

Satan attempted to overthrow the Lord’s sovereignty by force. It did not end well for him. He was cast out of heaven and will ultimately be thrown into the lake of fire.

Likewise, “The righteous ruler, not the tyrant, will remain in power. A tyrant will inevitably face the danger of rebellion and even assassination. A righteous administration, on the other hand, pleases the people and God, who preserves it” (From the NIV Bible Concordance).


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