In Romans 13:1 Paul writes: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.” Paul then adds teeth to that statement in verse 2 when he writes: “he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”
In context Paul is talking about civic government, as we see in verse 6 when he mentions paying our taxes. He isn’t talking about submitting to the likes of Hitler and all those other murdering maniacs who go to war and slaughter millions of people. But even in our civic governments and law enforcement agencies there are people in power who make life miserable for the people who depend on them for their safety and well-being.
So how can Paul say these bad apples in positions of authority are “God’s servants to do you good” in verse 4? Clearly, I need a major “transformation by the renewing of my mind” to grasp how “good, pleasing and perfect” God’s will is on this one (Romans 12:2). For me this is where the rubber really hits the road in “testing and approving” God’s ways as being right and superior.
But it does tell me one thing, that God is very much involved in what’s going on inside our nations. I may not clue in yet as to why he allows the justice system to include corrupt lawyers and judges, or why he allows police forces to abuse their power through overzealous violence, but I have to admit it’s only the minority who are like that. Most government agencies and civic authorities are dedicated to containing and eradicating evil, so it doesn’t run rampant. Most authorities within a nation really are “agents of wrath” that “bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (verse 4). And if we “want to be free from fear of the one in authority,” then “do what is right and he will commend you” (verse 3). In most nations that’s true, that we have little to worry about if we’re good citizens.
Bring God into the picture, then, and it can radically change our thinking about politicians and civic authorities. Imagine what life in our nation would be like without local governing bodies. We’d have anarchy, or even a repeat of Genesis 6:5 in Noah’s day when “every inclination of the thoughts of human hearts was only evil all the time.”
God obviously had our best interests in mind, then, when instituting government and law enforcement, which is how Paul understood it too. But it raises the obvious question as to why God also gives us bad leaders and bad apples among those in leadership positions.
Is it because they serve a useful purpose too, though? Because – to ask a touchy question – how do we react personally to bad leaders, and especially when their policies and leadership styles make us feel angry, helpless, and fearful? Do we turn to God for help or to our own devices, like violent protest, or endless fuming at the dining room table driving everyone crazy, or getting ourselves in a froth so bad we do something really stupid and maybe end up in jail?
I admit I need supernatural help when our local Council is making ridiculous decisions, or the police ignore obvious crimes and punish pettiness instead. Like Job, I need God to lift me out of this world and see him above it all, with his hundreds of millions of angels being “ministering spirits” to those who trust him (Hebrews 1:14).
It’s in the political arena too, then, that we can experience the supernatural, as we look to God to help us keep our cool, and look to him to deal with the bad apples in ways that we can’t. And isn’t that what he appreciates from us more than anything, that we trust him? So maybe he allows poor leadership in government and law enforcement to get us to trust him, just like he allowed a vicious Pharaoh in Moses’ day to stir Israel to cry out to him and God then “displayed his power” on Israel’s behalf (Romans 9:17).
Can we do the same thing today as well, then, and cry out to God for help when ruled by bad leaders? Yes, according to Paul in 2 Thessalonians 3:2; we can “pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men.”
So I ask myself, “Am I resting all my hopes and dreams, and my mental well-being, in perfect human leadership, or in God?” If it’s God, then if there’s bad leadership and abuse of power, and wrong decisions that threaten the safety and well-being of people, I don’t have to panic or resort to bad behaviour myself. I can trust God to sort things out, since he’s the one who put those people in leadership in the first place. And if he wants me to play some active part in dealing with the bad apples, I can also trust him for wisdom and whatever else I need to do that job well too. Maybe it’s even run for Mayor myself.…