God and Government
This Saturday will be Independence Day. Two hundred forty-four years ago on July 4, 1776, the founding fathers of these United States of America declared independence from the King of Great Britain. On March 4, 1789, a new constitution, including a Bill of Rights, became effective and the government of the United States of America was formed.
The Declaration of Independence laid out the grievances the colonies had with King George and the reasons they believed it was right and necessary to declare independence from his tyranny.
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,--That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."
Our history is a glorious attempt to provide liberty for the citizens of the USA. It also includes, sadly, a failure to fully live out that liberty in terms of our treatment of native Americans and African slaves. Our nation is struggling today with what freedom means. Many are convinced more justice and freedom is found in socialism. Others are equally convinced the principles and values of our constitution as written, although not perfectly lived out, provide "liberty and justice for all."
Over all this, followers of Jesus Christ have the values and truths of the Kingdom of God as revealed in Scripture. No human government is perfect. No government administered by fallen people is free from corruption and hypocrisy. Government is messy. How do we live for the Gospel of Jesus Christ as citizens of our nation?
In Romans 13:1-2, God speaks through the Apostle Paul to give us this principle:
"Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves."
This reads very differently for us in light of Nazi Germany, for instance, than our own nation. In general, God calls His people to be model citizens, obeying the law and praying for those in authority over us. The sticky part comes when the government is corrupt and the laws are unjust. I believe it ought to be only in the most extreme circumstances that a believer disobeys the government or participates in a revolution. But that is exactly what happened at the founding of our nation.
Where there is injustice, God's people stand for truth. We practice justice and mercy. We treat people with the respect due to image-bearers of the Living God, whatever the color of one's skin or ethnicity of one's background. We live for a higher government than any human one, seeking to make the Kingdom of God a reality in whatever ways we can in this fallen world. And we pray for those in authority over us.
These days call for much prayer and for Godly action in our relationships. Our government and its leaders, like every other, will be judged by the Living God, who is both holy and merciful. Our lives will be judged by the same just and gracious God. In the meantime, may He cause us to live in holiness and love, for such a time as this.