I know you were just chomping at the bit to get into taxes (everybody’s favorite subject), but I thought we need to spend one more day contemplating some of the deeper implications of a simple statement that Paul makes here: “[There] is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”
Does Paul only mean the national government by this statement? No. In verse one he says that we must be subject to the governing authorities, but the reason he gives for our obedience is because every human authority has been placed there by God. If someone has been put in authority by another, he’s been placed there by the Almighty, and rebellion against that authority (with the lone exception of when they command us to do something contra Scripture) is rebellion against God.
But we live under a system of rule by law and in a democratic republic. What about bad government? I mean really really really bad government?
Was Adolph Hitler “established” by God? Stalin? Pol Pot? Fidel Castro? The Ayatollah Khomeini? The death toll, the mountains of corpses that number in the millions (about 100 million killed in the name of Communism alone) would seem to bring that proposition into question.
Let’s get this out of the way. Yes. All of these monsters in human form were put into their place of authority by the Almighty. It wasn’t chance, and it wasn’t contrary to his will, and it wasn’t just him passively letting it happen. Paul’s pretty explicit here. Around the time he wrote these very words, they had Nero as Roman Emperor. Look him up if the name doesn’t mean anything.
But we need to ask some clarifying questions. Does that mean that the Lord who placed them there agreed with everything they did, that he smiled upon their policies? When Hitler was planning the Holocaust, or Stalin was inflicting mass starvation on millions of Ukrainians, was God smiling on them?
To ask is to answer. If you hesitated for even a moment on those questions, something’s wrong. You know him better than that, or I hope you do.
Just because God puts someone into a position of authority has no bearing on whether or not (or how much) he agrees with their policies. The same Bible that gives us today’s readings gives us plenty of examples to make this clear. Think about Pharaoh. This monster murdered thousands of little Jewish babies. He then oppressed millions of more Jews, forcing them into backbreaking labor for his personal building projects. And of course the Lord expressed his hearty disapproval of these actions by destroying the nation that did it and which refused to let them go. But the Lord gives us insight into the purpose behind all of this. This was not an accident. The Lord didn’t just passively sit by and watch Pharaoh rise in power. He specifically says that “I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”
And this isn’t the only place the Scripture proclaims this truth. The Psalmist said “No one from the east or the west or from the desert can exalt themselves. It is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another.” In the right way and in the right time, the same Lord who raised them up will remove them. And he will judge them for everything they do.
Why does God do this? Why doesn’t he give us leaders like David or Hezekiah, like Winston Churchill or George Washington all the time? It seems like really bad leaders outnumber really good leaders by about a hundred to one. For every David, you get about a hundred Ahabs. I don’t know why. But I know he knows what he’s doing, and I’ve chosen to trust him. The Bible proclaims it, so I can either whine in ignorance of his sovereignty or I can trust him.
There’s another point to consider. I really haven’t touched much upon the passage in Peter, but there’s something there really worth observing. For the most part, he’s echoing Paul here: “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority.” But he goes out of his way to go down the list of authorities: Kings down to local governors. This means two things we should observe.
First, this includes local governing authorities, not just national ones. Your city council and mayor are over you in authority. Police are over you in their official capacity as law enforcers.
This would also include employers and bosses. If you’ve taken a job, you’ve volunteered to be under the authority of your employers. If your boss tells you to do something, you do it. Show proper respect for everyone. We love other believers, fear God, and honor those in earthly authority over us.
I’d like to remind you (and me) that this is not an option. These are not suggestions. These are commands from God Almighty. And we should not be obeying just because we’re afraid of earthly consequences. Like it or not, whether we agree with them or not, whether they’re good leaders or not, our Father has placed them in the spot where they are. Once again, it all comes down to one question: “Do I trust him or not?”
Yes, I trust you. But the world gets so dark sometimes, and so often it looks like Wrong is on the Throne and Right is on the gallows. Please help me to trust, and to obey, and to wait.