LELA: Becky Akers is kindly continuing her conversation with me about anarchy. Last week, we ended with me asking a question –
How can anarchy be consistent with Christianity when Romans 13-:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-17 say Christians are to obey government authority?
BECKY: Lela, a Christian whose family abused her throughout her childhood recently wrote me that she’s heard plenty of sermons about honoring parents but seldom if ever one on Ephesians 6:4, “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath…”
We can draw a multitude of analogies between abusive parents and the abusive State, but I’ll concentrate on the selective quoting of Scripture my friend raises.
For centuries, Christians have justified their silence toward or even enthusiastic cooperation with the State’s evil by citing Romans 13 (which begins, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God…”). If that doesn’t cow their siblings in Christ into kissing the government’s butt, they add I Peter 2:13-17 (“Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors…”).
So exclusively do Christians rely on these two passages that we might assume the Bible otherwise ignores both the State and believers’ proper response to it.
LELA: So you’re saying there is another side to the story? Scripture is often balanced, in my experience. What’s the full Biblical message?
BECKY: Actually, I’m not so sure it’s balanced in this case! Far from condoning or even approving the State, God’s Word is rife with warnings against political government and its evil, descriptions of the Lord’s disgust with each, advice on mitigating their harm, and our duty to eschew violence, including that which the State sanctions.
So, just as my friend longs to hear a sermon on Ephesians 6:4, I’m craving one on Judges 9. This “Parable of the Trees” is the Bible’s first allegorical story; as such, you’d think it would merit close attention. Yet most Christians have neither heard of nor read this cautionary tale against the State. In it, one of Gideon’s sons compares government to the worthless bramble when the trees decide they want a king (i.e., a government. Monarchy was the usual if not the only form the State assumed then).
LELA – So, Gideon, it’s the time of the Judges. The Judges were wise guides as God spoke through them, not leaders or rulers. People were organized in family and tribal units. That sounds like de facto anarchy. So tell the story.
BECKY – The trees approach the olive, the fig and the grapevine in turn, asking each to rule them. And all three respond that they are too busy with productive pursuits, with providing oil, fruit, and wine, to waste their time. But the bramble, which infests fields and crops and is fit only for destruction, not only eagerly accepts the invitation to rule, it also immediately threatens the trees first with dominance and then with violence: “If in truth you anoint me as king over you, then come and take shelter in my shade,” – note that most trees weaken and die in shade –“But if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon!”
LELA – I’ve read that passage and never actually saw the meaning though it is plain.
BECKY: And quite an expose of government! Shouldn’t Bible-believing Christians, preachers and scholars avidly heed this parable?
LELA – We should take the entire Bible into context with itself and not ignore those passages we disagree with.
BECKY – Indeed! Another passage I’ve never heard expounded from the pulpit comes from I Samuel 8. Here, God admonishes the Israelites about the greedy tyranny of human government: “[A king] will take your sons [for war]… He will take your daughters [to labor for him]… And he will take the best of your fields, your vineyards, and your olive groves, and give them to his servants.” Today we call that “eminent domain” and “cronyism.” “He will take a tenth of your grain and your vintage,”―would that it were only a tenth!―“and give it to his officers and servants. … you will be his servants. And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves…”
I don’t read ancient Hebrew, but I daresay the word for “cry out” in the original does not mean, “Wildly cheer your fellow congregants who volunteer as killers for the armed forces while the pastor equates protecting your wealth from the IRS with cheating and lying.”
LELA: I take it to mean a speech.
BECKY: There are scores, perhaps hundreds, of further passages. Some are as obvious as Psalm 2, when the Lord tells us He “laughs” and “holds in derision” the “kings of the earth … And the rulers” because they “take counsel together, against the Lord and against His Anointed…” Others are subtler. I Peter 4:15 says, “But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters.” And what are the State’s primary occupations? Murder (though politicians call such slaughter “war”), theft (which they euphemize as “taxation”), and evildoing (just ask any victims of war or of the IRS). Meanwhile, bureaucrats do nothing but busy themselves in other people’s matters (OK, they also take very long breaks for coffee).
LELA – How else are they going to have the energy to meddle? So we’ve been talking about the Old Testament, but the two passages we’re discussing are New Testament. What did Jesus have to say about it?
BECKY: Many things. Let’s start with His direct order to His disciples not to “lord it over” their fellows, as the “Gentiles” do, nor to “exercise authority over them.” Yet throughout history, from Constantine to Jimmy Carter, politicians have called themselves Christians while deliberately flouting this behest. How many Christians today “lord it over” us as politicians, bureaucrats, cops or another of the State’s henchmen? Do these people think Christ was only kidding? Do we? If not, if you take Jesus’ words seriously, do you forbid your kids from watching movies or TV shows that glorify cops? Do you scotch any ambition they have of joining those gangs of official thugs? When a brother in the Lord says he’s thinking of hiring on with the TSA, do you tell him Christ forbids it?
LELA – In a town where active-duty military families are 15% of the population and 50% of the residents work for government in one capacity or another – not often, because those would be a lot of very uncomfortable conversations. Maybe more now that I have some passages to counter the standard ones.
BECKY: Lela, we could survey the Bible book by book for verses like these, whether it’s the Egyptian government’s utter wickedness in Genesis (and God’s hardening Pharaoh’s heart for His purposes does not excuse that wickedness, any more than His using David’s adultery to write Psalm 51 condones the sin with Bathsheba) or the final triumph of Christ’s kingdom over the idolatrous usurpers here on earth in Revelation. But that requires two things: removing the biases and blinders that result from concentrating on Romans 13 and I Peter 2, and far more space than we have here!
Yet those passages in Romans and I Peter remain troubling, don’t they? They seem to defend, even advocate, the State; if in fact they do, they negate the other verses I’ve cited. Yet as sinners saved by faith alone in Christ’s blood alone through His grace alone, we know the Bible is Almighty God’s inspired Word. Therefore, it does not and cannot contradict itself.
LELA – So what gives? How do you reconcile that seeming contradiction?
BECKY: Alas, I see our time is up, Lela. May I answer that next week?
LELA: You certainly may. Stay tuned for next week, folks! The topic will continue.