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.
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.
Although states can (and often do) legalize crime, God does not sanction such policy. For example, abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, sodomite unions, marriage licensing, divorce (for reasons other than adultery or abandonment), family control rules (e.g., prohibitions against spanking, truancy “laws”), public (pagan) education, affirmative action, taxation (legalized theft) of non-privileged earnings, farm and other subsidies (financed by extortion), welfare and other relief that requires the looting of one person in order to benefit another (e.g., Social Security, food stamps, Pell grants, etc.), and aggressive warfare (murder) are immoral policies but are still legal—and even endorsed by the state. Yet God condemns them in His word.
From before the time of Christ, nearly every state has promulgated such evil policies. And the variety of evil policies is growing. Given this well-established fact, how should we understand the Bible’s teaching that states are “ordained” or “appointed” by God (Romans 13:1)? Divine ordination simply indicates that Providence directs all things. As historic Baptist and Presbyterian confessions of faith declare: “God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass.”1 Surely, the Apostle Paul did not purport that all particular states then (and ever since) have been characteristically good or good for society. History evinces the opposite.
Consider state rulers of the last century alone—mega-murderers—such as Mao Tse-tung and Chiang Kai-shek (China), Josef Stalin (U.S.S.R.), Adolf Hitler (Germany), Pol Pot (Cambodia), U Ne Win (Burma), Tito (Yugoslavia), Yahya Khan (Pakistan), Tojo Hideki (Japan), Atatürk (Turkey), and Idi Amin (Uganda). One might also note prolific (private sector) serial killers such as David Berkowitz (the “Son of Sam”), Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, and Pee Wee Gaskins of the United States; Moses Sithole and Norman Afzal Simons of South Africa; Bruno Ludke of Germany; Javed Iqbal of Pakistan; Luis Alfredo Gavarito and Pedro Alonso Lopez of Columbia; Andrei Chikatilo of Russia; Anatoly Onoprienko of the Ukraine; Bela Kiss of Hungary; Arnfinn Nesset of Norway. We live in an “evil age” (Galatians 1:4). So much bloodshed brings to mind the solemn words of Scripture: “For man also does not know his time: like fish taken in a cruel net, like birds caught in a snare, so the sons of men are snared in an evil time, when it falls suddenly upon them” (Ecclesiastes 9:12). At least in terms of raw numbers, states have far and away been the leading “cruel nets” and “snares” that men have had to face, far and away exceeding the evil of all serial killers combined.
In the case of states, God has ordained evil men to rule to accomplish His purposes in the world. Divine appointment or ordination includes that which is evil and nefarious. Many will no doubt be shocked by the Bible’s plain, clear doctrine: the fact that God ordains all things does not necessarily mean that all the things that God ordains are good. For instance, Satan, the demons, various false religions, genocidal rulers, and prolific serial killers were all ordained by God yet clearly none of them were good. Clearly, divine ordination does not necessarily imply even a tendency toward institutional goodness in the state. Indeed, God ordains the state in the same sense that He ordains the devil himself.
1 The third article of the 1689 (Second) Baptist Confession of Faith says: “God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein; nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established; in which appears his wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing his decree.” The third article of the 1644 (First) Baptist Confession of Faith says: “That God has decreed in Himself from everlasting touching all things, effectually to work and dispose them according to the counsel of His own will, to the glory of His name; in which decree appears His wisdom, constancy, truth, and faithfulness.” The third article of the 1649 Westminster Confession of Faith says: “God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.”
Originally published in The Times Examiner on May 25, 2005.