What's a Christian To Do With Our Government?
Are you tired of hearing about politics yet? You may have hoped that the end of the presidential campaign would bring some closure—even if it didn’t end the cycle of fear, anger, and divisiveness that we seem caught in, at least the election would be over! But predictably, our country continues to be divided; some approve of the current administration, others disapprove, and others may be undecided.
Interestingly, the Bible itself presents a complicated picture of government. When thinking about government and politics, Christians often gravitate toward Paul’s words in Romans 13: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is not authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” With this as our “go-to” scripture, Christians often feel that they must support the government; to question the government is to question God’s ordering of the world.
Yet there are other biblical passages that present a different view. In particular, the entire book of Revelation presents a darker picture of government. Revelation 13 imagines a government, portrayed as a beast, that has run amuck and overstepped its boundaries: “The beast was given a mouth uttering haughty words…It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God…It was given authority over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all the inhabitants of the earth will worship it—everyone whose name has not been written in the Lamb’s book of life….” Revelation cannot imagine Christians being supportive of such a government; on the contrary, submission to this type of government is a clear sign that a person has not been redeemed by Christ.
Taken together, these passages of scripture suggest that Christians have a complicated relationship to government. There may be times when Christians can support the good work that governments do to preserve peace, safeguard freedoms, and assist the vulnerable—all of which are deeply Christian values. On the other hand, there may be moments when faithful allegiance to Christ calls us to resist actions of the government that we view as immoral.
There is no easy way to tell the appropriate choice in each moment. A government action that seems almost demonic to one Christian may seem perfectly acceptable to another Christian. We must each make our choices with much prayer, reflection, education and study, and conversation with other Christians.
Perhaps most importantly, our complicated relationship to the government should remind us of where our true hope lies. As Christians, we do not work only to improve conditions in this world: our work “is not that of building utopias, but that of eliminating weeds and tilling the soil so that the Kingdom of God can grow. (Richard Niebuhr, 6 April 1932)”
Regardless of your approval or disapproval of the current administration, may the next four years find you faithful in the long, slow work of preparing the ground for God’s Kingdom to grow.