By Dr. Anne Davis
In the turmoil that our country is currently experiencing we must be asking ourselves, “What does God want us to do if we are faced with an ungodly and dangerous governing body?” No matter what your political views, in the current polarized climate some of us are going to be asking this agonizing question.
I grew up in New England, and the American Revolution was ingrained in my education. I was surrounded by historical and symbolic markers, and I idolized heroes who overthrew a hated and oppressive government controlled by a wealthy and privileged group of American colonists and British officials.
In those early years of our country, the ones in power did everything possible to retain their control, but others who yearned for change finally turned to armed revolution. The outcome was the free and democratic country that we cherish today. So, I thought that armed insurrection must be acceptable in God’s eyes.
However, I have recently been unsettled by the angry undercurrent in our country, and I know of no other place to find answers to this distressing situation than the Bible.
It seems that God’s instruction is clear.
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. Therefore, whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. Romans 13:1-2
I have always been troubled by this passage. I have willingly submitted to the authority of God by making Jesus Lord in my life, but accepting an ungodly ruling power is against my nature and against my personal experience of admiring those who fought in the American Revolution. Yet, submitting to an ungodly authority seems to be what God wants us to do.
It was not until the recent political turmoil that I began to understand what God was asking of His people and why. As we just read in Paul’s letter to the Romans, God opposes civil unrest. Such rebellious action in our own culture today could take the form of armed insurrection, or passive resistance like failing to pay taxes or refusing to obey laws. God opposes this kind of civil disobedience, which is an attempt by mankind (not God) to rid themselves of a hated and oppressive government.
Can we conclude, then, that God promotes evil rulers? Certainly not! I suggest that God “allows evil rulers” because they serve a godly purpose, which we can see in Scripture.
For example, in the Book of Judges, there is a repetitive pattern. The people “did evil in the sight of the Lord”, which means they were living in ways contrary to God. This immoral and sinful behavior weakened their political and military power, which allowed enemies to overpower them and make their lives miserable. It was then, and only then, that the people “turned to the Lord” and He “delivered” them by sending a righteous leader to guide them back to God’s morally correct and blameless ways.
We see a similar pattern in the kings of the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. Take, for example, the good king Hezekiah.
He clung to the Lord; he did not depart from following Him, but kept His commandments, which the Lord had commanded Moses. 2 Kings 18:6
When we have a righteous leader in our own lives today, like King Hezekiah, the people will be led in righteous ways. This leader will not only be a model to his people by his godly life but will also act to abolish ungodly traditions. Listen again to the deeds of Hezekiah who destroyed the sites of pagan worship that had become popular during the reign before him.
He [Hezekiah] removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah. He also broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it. 2 Kings 18:4
However, Hezekiah’s godly reign did not last. His son, Manasseh, followed him as ruler of Judah, and we can conclude that Manasseh was a “truly evil ruler.”
He did evil in the sight of the Lord according to the abominations of the nations. For he rebuilt the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed, and he erected altars for Baal and made an Asherah. He built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord [the Temple]. He made his son pass through the fire, practiced witchcraft, used divination, and dealt with mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord. 2 Kings 21:2-6
So, how are we to respond to evil governments that God will periodically allow? I will suggest three answers.
- Avoid any kind of civil disobedience and submit to the governing authority. However, at the same time, have complete trust and faith in the Lord because you know in your heart that He will not allow this evil to continue indefinitely, and He will eventually use this ungodly behavior to encourage His people to return to Him.
- You must stand for what is right with God, which will be a light in the midst of an evil world. We are warned that this firm stand will lead to persecution. However, it will also serve God’s purpose as we read in the Gospel of Luke.
They will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues [for judgment] and prisons [the consequence of judgment], bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. [BUT] It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. Luke 21:12-13
Did you hear, “lead to an opportunity for your testimony”? I suggest that God’s faithful disciples must stand for Him in the face of intense tribulation and persecution. They play a significant role in bringing people back to God, which will happen in “God’s time”. That means they must be patient and must trust completely in the Lord. Thus, the responsibility of faithful disciples is not only to speak the words of God, but perhaps more important, to demonstrate a godly life that is a true and powerful witness. They are a “light” to all those, including many Christians, who are deceived by false prophets and by the lure of false security.
- Finally, I suggest that God is using these times of trial and tribulation to raise up, not a judge as in the time of ancient Israel, and not a Messiah who is already with us, but a remnant. These are the true leaders of God’s people today, who serve God under the leadership of Yeshua the Messiah. Furthermore, they are now in training for the next stage of God’s plan to redeem His people, which will be what Scripture calls The Great Tribulation.
So, as God told Jonah, whom He had just instructed to witness in the midst of the evil Assyrians, “Stand and go”!
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Dr. Anne Davis is a professor of Biblical Studies who enjoys working with graduate students to enhance their exegetical skills for exploring the depth of Scripture.