Christians and the Government
Do not trust in princes,
In mortal man, in whom there is no salvation.
— Psalm 146:3
As western civilization rejects the God upon which its foundation rests, it searches with mad effort to find a suitable replacement. When Friedrich Nietzsche announced the death of God (1882), he concluded that man must be the replacement, yet he could not foretell the psychological pain this heavy burden would bring. Today the question still remains, who can replace God? Who is able to replace infinite and perfect wisdom, power, and rule? The obvious answer is no one but God, but such an answer seems untroubling to those dead set on killing God.
In observing the political climate over the past few years—particularly the increasing partisanship in political ideology—I have noticed an increasing dependency on the government to set a moral rule for the citizens to follow. This is coming from both sides of the political spectrum. The overarching reason for this is that our culture has extended their replacement of God with self, adding political government. Instead of individuals ruling their lives, they have turned to government to be their god, to do their bidding, to rule and reign over them. This is the obvious outcome; where the individual can only rule their life, the government rules the masses.
Where does that leave us?
Primarily, it leaves us with anxiety concerning those who govern. If the government has almost ultimate sway over us, the most important thing in life is to have a government that does what we want. For the world, their goal is to have a government elected who will govern them morally, who will upend the entire civilization if needed for the justification of their sinful ways. They want salvation from the condemnation of Scripture. For many Christians, preservation is the name of the game. They understand that the Christian moral framework which caused our nations to thrive must be upheld to continue thriving. I know government with a Christian moral framework also brings religious freedom to Christians (and that's the underlying goal), but Christians do not need religious freedom to thrive. So, they too place their hope in government to govern the people morally.
Both these points, however, miss their intended target. In the case of the world, the government has no power in clearing a guilty conscience. Further, to govern in such a manner brings anarchy (as seen already in the transgender movement). In the case of Christians, the government cannot regulate biblical morals without enforcing hypocritical religion. In plainer terms, the government cannot change the heart of man. Only the gospel which the church carries into the world can bring change in such a way as to create a truly Christian nation. For both the world and the Christian, having government on their side brings personal peace but cannot accomplish their intentions.
That, however, is only a simple observational argument against people trusting ultimate government rule. The Bible gives us a much stronger reason.
The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord;
He turns it wherever He wishes. (Proverbs 21:1)
It matters not who the Prime Minister of Canada, the President of the United States, or any ruling body is; God rules them all. Every ruler carries out the ordained plan of God; they do God's bidding on earth. Whether it was the king of Assyria deciding to fight Israel (Isaiah 10), or Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, and Chairman Mao carrying out great atrocities in the 20th century, God holds the desires of all rulers in His hand, determining where they go—for evil and for good. God also causes great men to rule and bless the people. He raised up Joseph, Moses, Joshua, and many others to show His kindness to the people.
An instance in one of the greatest kingdoms of history stands out at this point. King Nebuchadnezzar, king of the great kingdom of Babylon, felt the power of God. Knowing human nature, it is not a surprise that Nebuchadnezzar became proud (Daniel 4:28-37). He boasted of how his hand had created such a magnificent kingdom. He boasted of his power. While he was boasting, God took Nebuchadnezzar's sovereignty away, making him like a beast in the field. Before this trouble, Nebuchadnezzar prophetically dreamt of a great tree being cut down. The angelic being who ordered the tree to be cut down proclaimed over the fallen tree:
“This sentence is by the decree of the angelic watchers
And the decision is a command of the holy ones,
In order that the living may know
That the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind,
And bestows it on whom He wishes
And sets over it the lowliest of men.” (Daniel 4:17)
After King Nebuchadnezzar's humiliation, he turned toward heaven and proclaimed that in God's sight "all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing," and that God "does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth" (Daniel 4:35). The prophet Isaiah came by different means to the same conclusion when he proclaimed, "Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, And are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales; Behold, He lifts up the islands like fine dust" (Isaiah 40:15).
The point of these passages is twofold. First, they restore a proper fear of God in our hearts. Second, they remove the fear of man from us. When we fear God, we find comfort even under the evilest governments and kingdoms; no longer does fear and anxiety about who governs the country grip us. Our trust in God to work all things out for good in our lives (Romans 8:28) distracts us from the cares of this world so that we can, without hindrance, carry the gospel into our communities, countries, and to the unreached people of the world.
Our trust in God over the government does not cause lethargy in political affairs. By telling His disciples to "give to Caesar what is Caesar's" (Matthew 22:21), Jesus teaches that participation in earthly governments does not violate the kingdom of God. Paul, likewise states that for the sake of conscience, "render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor" (Romans 13:7). For a Christian to honor and fear God must cause fear and honor for those in authority over us, not because they inherently deserve it but because God has placed them in those positions.
As Christians, our citizenship in heaven overrides our citizenship on earth without damaging the latter. It might be complicated at times, and we might err to one side over the other. But if we err, may we err on the side our eternal home.