The Kingdom of God And The Kingdoms Of Men
Many Christians over the centuries have supported, participated in, and helped to enable the kingdoms of this world to carry out deeds that are antithetical to the purposes of the Kingdom of God. Because of the misuse of Paul’s words in Romans 13, many professing Christians have trusted more in the political power of the state than they have the power of non-coercive Christian love. The Bible depicts the rulers and kingdoms of this world as being hostile to God (Psalm 2). Knowing this, and knowing the pain and misery that rulers and heads of state have heaped upon earthly citizens, including Christians, and that they have been far from agents of “good”, how do we reconcile this with Paul’s words in Romans 13? If Paul was making the claim that governments should always be obeyed, this means that the Egyptian midwives should have obeyed Pharaoh and killed all the Hebrew males at their birth, that Rahab should not have hidden the Hebrew spies from the city officials that were looking for them, that the apostles should have stopped preaching that Jesus Christ is Lord, and that German Christians were obligated to participate in the holocaust. In the first three biblical examples, we see God specifically bless the individuals because of their actions – actions that defied governmental authority. Given these examples, some Christians believe that Paul knew that those he was writing to had no recourse in their situation against the might of Rome, and believing that Christ would return soon, Paul urged them to be heavenly minded and to disregard any thoughts about political resistance, for the only end for them would be persecution and death. There is also something to be said about the fact that Paul knew that the persecutor Nero would become aware of this letter, therefore Paul did not want Nero to see the Christians as a threat to his rule, so he urged compliance for their protection. Paul made the point that his readers should be orderly and productive citizens, lest they bring the condemnation of the “powers that be” upon themselves.
What does it mean that the “powers that be” are ordained of God? The word ordained does not mean “pre-ordained” or predetermined, it instead signifies a present influence, disposition, or positioning. The Bible uses the word ordained in Acts 13:48, and it means the Gentiles disposed themselves, or aligned themselves with the offer of salvation. They were not eternally decreed to believe and be saved as some claim. God’s influence on them, and their submission to God based on the light they had, positioned them to submit to Christ as Lord when they heard the gospel. Likewise, the influence and positioning of the world’s governments can be said to be ordained by God in the sense that in his divine project, he allows them to be in power just as he allows Satan to be “the god of this world.” God could overthrow the kingdoms of men and the tyranny of Satan in a moment of time, but he “ordains” that they continue to exist, perhaps to test our loyalty. In Deuteronomy 13:1-3, God says that false prophets will have dreams and provide signs and wonders about things that will come to pass. God says that even if their claims come true - it can be said he ordains that he will let them come to pass – this does not mean that God approves of them. Instead, God says he uses the influence and presence of these false claims to “prove” the people, to know whether they will obey him or not. These false prophets were therefore “ordained of God” in that they were allowed to be in place for a reason – the testing of the people. We should remember this when it comes to obeying the government. It will be no excuse before God that we disobeyed him because we were obeying “the powers that be.” Not submitting will result in condemnation from the government, but it is better to be condemned by men than God.