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Uprooting the political status quo
It’s easy to hate those who we disagree with politically, especially if we watch TV commentators. When they vote or advocate what is clearly evil to our ears, our sense of justice can boil over. They exasperate us, and they infuriate us. To me, it’s hard to keep a peaceful heart when those dragging us down a long road toward tyranny keep winning it drives me up the wall. So, when I read Romans 13, it was a little hard to swallow.
1Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.
Seriously Paul? Stalin was God’s servant? For my good? Pay taxes to Mao Tse Tung or face God’s wrath? Really? Are you sure?
I googled this topic and found a few interpretations that let us weasel out of the literal interpretation. They point to cultural context or that Paul was actually being sneaky and suggesting that we only submit to those who had God’s authority, but I wasn’t convinced. I think there’s another way to look at this passage by looking at the verses that precede it.
17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it[i] to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
The key phrases are these : “Overcome evil with good”, and “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
Overcome evil with good – Herein lies the tactic that God wants us to pursue. Not just because it is noble, but because it works. The Roman Empire fell to Christians, not by the sword, but through the conversion of its leaders. Gandhi’s successful non-violence was inspired, in part, by Christ. Jesus himself created an irrepressible revolution that continues to sweep the world today, not through violence, but through his ultimate act of love.
Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord – God is patient in his anger, and we must have faith that it will come to those who commit evil. It is not up to us. Again, this is not just because it is noble, but because God is so much better at wrath than we could ever hope to be. The Israelites didn’t have to lift a finger God utterly destroyed Pharaoh and his kingdom. He humiliated their gods, he destroyed their crops and their livestock, he slaughtered their firstborn sons, and ultimately drowned Pharaoh and his army.
7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.
When you are tempted to hate, and tempted to anger, just remember that you serve an all-powerful and perfectly just God. Love and pity your enemy, because you know that God’s wrath is coming.
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
Several months ago I moved into a new neighborhood in a more affluent suburb. Whereas I used to drive by a trailer park and an abandoned apartment complex, I now pass by mansions on huge estate lots. Don’t be mistaken that I live in one of these, my neighborhood is a mix of average to large older homes on regular sized lots. Mine is the one on the corner with all the dead grass from our recent drought.
About three blocks away from me is one of these large estates. It sits on 4 acres, heavily wooded, and backing up to a creek. It has a swimming pool, pond with fountain, tennis courts, electric wrought iron gate, and a large home that is barely visible from the road. It isn’t as grand as some of the others on that street, but it stood out to me because of the Bentley I would see coming and going. You can buy a rather nice used one here for just over $280,000 at current exchange rates.
His appearance of wealth was too outlandish for me to waste much time being jealous, but I had wondered what he did for a living that had made him so much money. His last indulgence was definitely not one that I would choose. Namely, a lethal and self-inflicted gunshot wound.
You see, Mr. Salinas was under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission for a possible Ponzi scheme that he was running. He had allegedly convinced other millionaires, including wealthy college basketball coaches, to invest their money with him. If the feds are right, he just took much of it, and lied about the investments.
I will never get to own, much less drive a Bentley, but I don’t think I’m missing much. I would rather serve a God that died for me, and not the other way around.
Susan Brooks Thistlewaithe is the former president of Chicago Theological Seminary. She wrote a column last year as a refutation to Glenn Beck’s negative commentary on “social justice”.
The apostles’ way of holding what they had in common is more like democratic socialism than it is like the Soviet collectivist model, heaven knows. But a literal reading of the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament does not admit of any other interpretation than that the early church was working out of a proto-socialist model.
She, of course, quotes Acts 4:32-35.
“Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles feet; and distribution was made to each as any had need.”
The common conservative defense against this passage being applicable to modern society is to take it in context. The early church was involved in a massive task of teaching the thousands of new converts to learn Christianity more deeply and thus this temporary setup was needed for that unique purpose. This is a reasonable answer, but not complete in my opinion.
However, the problem with the rationalizations that Thistlewaithe has committed are from more fundamental theological errors. Firstly, as I have mentioned before, it quickly gets ridiculous when assuming exhortations by Jesus should have the force of law. More importantly, though, she seems to have a poor concept of love. Love, can not be the result of moral compulsion. To say that I love brussel sprouts because I ought to eat better, is both a contradiction and a lie. Love is not an obligation, it is a desire.
Whether by the barrel of a gun, the force of tax law, or by moral manipulation, Socialism is a system of coercion. Coercion can not produce love. She admits that the coercion is less than the violent Soviet collectivist model, but tries to match it to the heavily taxed democratic socialism of, say, Denmark. But taxation is still a tool of force and coercion. Even a morally minded minister who guilts his parishioners into giving up their private property is using coercion and eschewing love.
The true cause of this situation is God’s love and grace. “Great grace was upon them all.” Because they had so much love they gave up their possession for further the kingdom. It was not by law or coercion, but their total absence. We see love alone. We see the early Christians practicing Anarchy in its perfect form.
To start, Anarchy is simply the absense of government. Don’t confuse it with riots, warfare, and chaos.
Does it strike Christians strange that the Bible is so silent on the proper form of government? The Bible never mentions democracy. God doesn’t seem to like monarchy. It’s silly to suggest that Jesus supports socialism. Jesus makes very few references to government outside of “render unto Caesar.” Why would he go to the trouble of giving instructions on fasting, yet be so silent on proper government?
Maybe, ultimately, Jesus knows that government is a pragmatic tool, invented by man out of his sin. Maybe Jesus thinks that we don’t need government at all. Maybe we need redemption through him, and not through men.
From the beginning, man has been trying to replace God with themselves. – Genesis 3:4-5 “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God,…”
At the Tower of Babel – Genesis 11:4 “Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens,…”
In Canaan – 1 Samuel 8:6-7 – But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.”
Inherent in our thinking on politics is the idea that if we could just shape our government in a certain way, our world could be a dramatically better place. Many Christians even go so far as to believe that government can create a highly righteous and moral society. When we do this, we are just like the Israelites in Canaan who rejected God as their king.
Salvation of our society does not come from the systems we design. It begins individually with the redemptive power of Christ to conform our minds to God’s wisdom. If God clears greed from your heart, do you need a law against stealing? If God clears jealousy from your heart, do you need a law agaisnt gossip or slander? The greater the redemption, the fewer laws we need. If all men were fully redeemed we wouldn’t need any laws at all. The Christian ideal then is Anarchy.
Before Saul’s reign over Israel there are intermittent leaders in times of crisis and then judges to mediate disputes. At one point, Gideon is chosen by God as a leader in defense of Israel, but Gideon rejects offers of kingship from his fellow Israelites.
Later, near the end of Samuel’s role as leader (not as king), the people of Israel ask for a king.
1 Samuel 8 (edited for length, not content)
6 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. 7 And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.” 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle[c] and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the LORD will not answer you in that day.” 19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” 21 When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the LORD. 22 The LORD answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”
God makes it clear that a king will oppress them. It is also clear that when God is their king, they don’t need a human king. Furthermore, he warns that a king (i.e. the state) will take 10% of their grain. Wonder what God thinks of a government taking 35% of GDP? Hmm…
1 Samuel 10
17 Samuel summoned the people of Israel to the LORD at Mizpah 18 and said to them, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘I brought Israel up out of Egypt, and I delivered you from the power of Egypt and all the kingdoms that oppressed you.’ 19 But you have now rejected your God, who saves you out of all your disasters and calamities. And you have said, ‘No, appoint a king over us.’ So now present yourselves before the LORD by your tribes and clans.”
God’s opposition to a king is reiterated two chapters later. He again states that desiring a human king is a rejection of God. Implicitly, the Israelites are looking for salvation by man, instead of salvation from God.
In recent months I’ve seen a trend of quoting Jesus in support of socialism. This, of course, offends my ears firstly because of my strong distaste for socialism, but on a deeper level the subject becomes increasingly ridiculous. When we expand our thinking beyond the parsing of meaning in particular utterances and apply it to the whole of his teachings, the concept that Jesus’ exhortations should be a legal framework becomes laughably absurd.
At no point does Jesus ever speak about legislation. He never says that Roman law ought to be such and such, or that the law in Palestine should be such and such. Never. Not once. To take his guidance and assume that it should be law is a logical leap unsupported by scripture.
Jesus, especially in Luke, speaks about helping the poor. What the socialists are putting into the mouth of Jesus is that charity should become law. In their minds, helping the poor is not just an individual act of morality, but part of our collective responsibility to enforce, with violence if necessary. However, if we are to take Jesus exhortations in their entirety and enforce them through the force of law, one can not be merely a socialist, but a lunatic.
Matthew 5: 22
22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment
Get mad? Go to jail.
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away.”
Uh oh, it looks like we need to start demanding that men who look at women lustfully should be legally required to gouge out their own eyes. (Note: I will be starting a seeing-eye-dog hedge fund to rake in the dough after this one passes)
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
So if a man slaps you on the cheek, you will now be legally forced to turn the other to him. Defending yourself or fleeing should be punishable by jail! If anyone wants to rob you, you are now legally required to give him more than he is asking for. If you resist a robber, you should be locked up. Someone carjacks you and wants you to drive them across town? Well, unless you want to risk a lengthy prison sentence; you will drive them twice as far as they demand. After all, Jesus said that you ought to.
Matthew 5: 48
48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
We’re going to need some bigger prisons.
Leverage – def. – power or ability to act or to influence people, events, decisions, etc.;
If only the human mind were designed for reason the world could be a very different place. Our minds rationalize what we want and what we need. How many of us have looked at a dessert and come up with grand bargains to justify eating a second piece. We can’t just act, we have to convince ourselves that we are justified.
If we find ourselves in need of money our minds work the same way. We might humble ourselves to ask a family member for money, we might be tempted to steal, or we might take a job we wouldn’t take under normal circumstances. Afterwards we’ll be convinced we did the right thing if our need for money goes away.
Imagine, if you will, a whole society in need of money. If a politician is promising financial salvation through handouts, how will that society react? Will they stick to reason? Will they ignore the common sense that tells us that there’s no free lunch. No, many of them will forget what they know, and be seduced by the siren song of easy, senseless solutions. The allure of socialism grows in the minds of desperate men.
Now imagine a society filled with savers. Even if events beyond our control destroy one man’s savings he has family and friends who can pick him up. Do men in this society come to be tempted by a social safety net? Hardly. It serves no purpose in a saving society. The politicians peddling free lunch in the saving society face a more finicky vote and wouldn’t hope to win an election with this kind of platform.
If you value freedom, become a saver. Encourage savings to your friends and family. Ample savings gives us back the leverage against the power seeking politician. Ample savings is an act of rebellion against the state.