This essay continues the Christian Theology and Public Policy Course essays by John Cobin, author of the books Bible and Government and Christian Theology of Public Policy. How would the statements by the Apostles Paul and Peter (in Romans 13:1-7,…
Just what does divine appointment imply about public policy, particularly proactive varieties? Are rulers (or states) generally good men (or institutions) simply because they are ordained by God? How can a God-ordained institution persist in legalizing crime and legitimizing the criminal behavior of rulers?
Thomas Jefferson candidly observed, “Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the forms of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question.” In Common Sense, Thomas Paine agreed: “…could we take off the dark covering of antiquity [pertaining to the origin of kings and of the State] and trace them to their first rise, we should find the first of them nothing better than the principal ruffian of some restless gang; whose savage manners or pre-eminence and subtlety obtained him the title of chief among plunderers; and who by increasing in power and extending his depredations, overawed the quiet and defenseless to purchase their safety by frequent contributions.” Likewise, Sigmund Freud (cited by Albert J. Nock in Our Enemy, the State) observed: “Taking the State wherever found, striking into its history at any point, one sees no way to differentiate the activities of its founders, administrators and beneficiaries from those of a professional-criminal class.” History teaches us that rulers and states everywhere have typically advocated evil policies and have behaved in ways that would be categorized as criminal if done in the private sector.
May a state legalize crime or actions that God says are wicked? Does God give the state permission to break His laws by virtue of the fact that it is the appointed civil authority—elected or otherwise?
As I have documented in Bible and Government: Public Policy from a Christian Perspective (Alertness Books, 2003), the insidious nature of the state with its public policies is manifest in over 90% of the occurrences of the motif in the Bible (outside of the Old Testament theocracy). The Apostles lived under Nero, who was certainly one of the most evil rulers in history, along with local draconian rulers like Herod. They had no delusions about the nature of the state which often persecuted them.
Moreover, since the closing of the canon, the menacing nature of public policy and states has continued to be manifest. As the Bible instructs us: “If you see the oppression of the poor, and the violent perversion of justice and righteousness in a province, do not marvel at the matter; for high official watches over high official, and higher officials are over them” (Ecclesiastes 5:8).
This essay continues the Christian Theology and Public Policy Course essays by John Cobin, author of the books Bible and Government and Christian Theology of Public Policy. A few more words must be spoken against the mainstream preacher’s frequent apologies…
I just heard the statement again from the pulpit: “Rebellion against authority is rebellion against God.” Nowadays, some of the greatest apologists for the state are preachers, who frequently invoke the Apostle Paul—himself a martyr due to state tyranny—in support of this notion. What a dramatic change from the “black robe” regiment of the Founding era, where preachers widely advocated and condoned civil disobedience!
In the preacher’s sermon the principal text was 1 Timothy 2:1-2, where the Apostle says: “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.” Taking into account the overarching objective of personal salvation mentioned in the immediate context (verse 4), two reasons for praying for rulers are manifest: (1) that they might be saved from their sins and hell and (2) that they might leave us Christians alone in order that we may serve the Lord quietly and peacefully, along with being spared persecution.