Russian writer Leo Tolstoy is considered one of the greatest novelists of all time. War and Peace and Anna Karenina have inspired millions over the last century. Less well-known about Tolstoy, though is that he had a profound effect upon many due to his interpretation of Christian ethics, especially regarding non-resistance and pacifism. In 1884, he expounded upon his beliefs in What I Believe, and this work was promptly banned in Russia for its negative depiction of the state and the Russian church. After the book had spread throughout the world and garnered attention, Russian secular and religious intellectuals began attacking his ideas. The Kingdom of God is Within You, published in 1894, is a further explanation of his beliefs and a response to his opponents.
This guest post is by LCC reader Paul Maitrejean.
Many Christians today are quick to leap to the defense of the current American regime. They will go to any length to defend its actions, particularly in the case of foreign policy and “culture” wars. On both sides of the aisle, Christians will throw their support behind virtually any politician of their particular political leaning regardless of his record, his words, or his current actions. Supporting without question the activities of the American government, particularly in foreign matters, has nearly become an unwritten prerequisite for being a Christian.
Amazingly, these Christians are supporting and swearing allegiance to among the most godless, cruel, greedy, murderous governments in history. When this is pointed out, though, the supporters of the State will cite Scripture in their defense – usually the oft-heard and badly-twisted Romans 13:1 – and they fall upon the dissenter like wolves. Is this the sort of mindset Jesus came among us to promote?
The government which they so ardently support is guilty of violation of every God-given right. God gave us the right to life (Exodus 20:13) – but the American government is guilty of murder on every scale through assassination programs, unjust wars, taxpayer-funded abortion, drone strikes, and attacks on citizens (such as Waco and Ruby Ridge). God gave us the right to liberty (1 Peter 4:15) – but the American government has taken upon itself to tell us what we must and must not do, own, buy, sell, consume, and so on. It also imprisons people for nonviolent crimes and even arrests and incarcerates without evidence or trial. God has given us the right to property (Exodus 20:15) – but the American government imposes coercive taxes, confiscates possessions, and tells us what we can and cannot own. God gave us the right to privacy (I Peter 4:15) – but the American government gives itself license to spy on us through our computers, our telephones, our records, and by means of cameras, drones, and even our own neighbors.
If God grants these rights to life, liberty, property, and privacy and safeguards them through His divine law, then it logically follows that man has no authority to take them away. Man, however, through his fabrication known as The State, has given himself the perceived right to do exactly that – to define and even take away the rights of other men.
In taking this gross license, man thus attempts to dethrone God and replace Him with the state.
Should Christians not be outraged at this blatant usurpation? Should they not recognize blasphemy when they see it? Should they not call out Caesar for declaring himself to be god?
The vast majority of people who identify themselves as Christians not only disregard the blasphemy but even argue in favor of it. How dare you question the legitimacy of the innumerable wars we wage around the globe? How dare you suggest that the state is evil? How dare you advocate throwing off the yoke of human rule? Modern Christians are overwhelmingly in favor of the American state despite its trail of theft, enslavement, and murder over the past one hundred fifty years. They wave their flags, recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and repeat their statist mantras of “Support the troops”, “Land of the free”, “We’re a Christian nation”, “Love it or leave it”, “God bless America”, and so on.
The fact that they so willingly turn a blind eye to the state’s blasphemous and tyrannical nature and so enthusiastically give it their unwavering and unquestioning support, despite its ungodly nature, should make us wonder who their true god is.
In Daniel 2, the prophet explains Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, in which he saw great image “whose brightness was excellent . . . and the form thereof was terrible.” (Daniel 2:31) This same image was composed of gold, silver, brass, and iron, which respectively represented the Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman empires – kingdoms of men.
Throughout Scripture, “graven images” are most often associated with the pagan practice of idol worship. (Leviticus 26:1) Human government is a fabrication of man. God never designed it. It is a concept that began exclusively in the minds of men, as early as the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve succumbed to the lure of becoming “as gods”. (Genesis 3:5) The Tower of Babel was but one culmination of man’s desire to rise to, if not beyond, God’s level. (Genesis 11:4) Since then, man has raised himself up to rule over his peers, forming monarchies, dictatorships, democracies, oligarchies, republics, and many other forms of rule. Man has always been the one to manufacture systems of human rule. He makes his own graven image in the form of the state, sets it up in a place of prominence – a “high place”, if you will – and bows down to it, even punishing those who do not. Nebuchadnezzar took it to a literal level in Daniel 3 by creating a golden image which he commanded his subjects to worship. But in Daniel 4, we see that this was only an outward expression of his worship of self and the state he had forged into mighty Babylon.
The king spake, and said, Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty? – Daniel 4:30
The state does not rise into power without the people first setting it in place themselves. They choose whether it will be a monarchy or republic, a democracy or an oligarchy. They create their image, their god, and when it takes power and begins to rule over them, they bow before it. Caesar would never have become regarded as a deity had the Roman people not set him there. Napoleon Bonaparte would not have become emperor had the French people not put in him a position to become so. Adolf Hitler would never have become der Fürher had the German people not recognized him in that capacity. The people of a nation create their graven image – the state, in whatever form it might take – and will always worship the work of their own hands.
The ancient Israelites were ruled directly by God through the judges up until the days of the prophet Samuel. When they became dissatisfied, they sought to have a king “like all the nations”. (I Samuel 8:5) They wanted to be like the pagan nations who were godless and lawless. They wanted to do away with the rule of God (I Samuel 8:7) and set up their own state, their own graven image to worship, despite God’s many warnings against falling for the other nations’ idolatry. (Joshua 23:6-8) God, frustrated with their rebellion, allowed them to make their graven image, and Israel fell prey to the nationalism, statism, and oppression that comes with human rule.
American Christians worship their own graven image. They reason, “We forged a union out of the thirteen colonies. We wrote a Constitution. We founded the three branches of the government. We elect our leaders.” This government is an image of their own making, and they would far rather bow down to it in adoration than admit that their false god is a god of wickedness.
Looking back at Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2, notice that the “graven image” is struck down and crushed by a stone that “was cut out without hands”. (Daniel 2:34) This stone is, as we now know, representative of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. This stone “became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth.” (Daniel 2:35) The absolute opposite of a graven image is an uncut stone. (Deuteronomy 27:5-6). God’s government is not created through the schemes and labors of men, but by the will of God. And that stone, the Messianic kingdom, did fill the entire earth, as we read in Matthew 28:18-19. He has triumphed over principalities and powers. (Colossians 2:15) Jesus is King, and has overcome the kingdoms of men, rendering them to so much chaff on the wind – irrelevant, meaningless, void.
Then why do statist Christians, while claiming to follow “the stone cut without hands”, continue to bow down to the stone-cut images of men? Simply, they do not recognize the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. Like the ancient people before them, they insist upon worshiping the work of their own hands, which has turned into a beast that tramples them underfoot like insects, demanding more sacrifice, more devotion, more service. They have refused to tear down their high places, clinging to the idolatry of statism. They worship in awe and adulation (Revelation 13:4) while spurning the invitation of Jesus to invest themselves fully in the love and liberty of His magnificent kingdom.
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. – Matthew 11:28-30