For nearly two months, there have been large waves of lawlessness and establishment in the United States. Today, then, I wanted to look at the nature of governance from a biblical perspective.
From my interpretation of the Bible, I look at the law as fundamentally neutral. Christ makes a clear distinction between giving to Caesar and giving to God. Caesar is absolutely subordinate to God, but those pursuits of Caesar’s government run neither contrary to nor towards those of the Kingdom of Heaven. Pontius Pilate’s ultimate goal was to keep the peace throughout Israel; while he found no faults with Jesus, he ultimately submitted to the will of the people, condemning Jesus to death. Similarly, in a much more private affair, Festus found nothing wrong with Paul, and the circumstances of Paul’s imprisonment were more bureaucratic than impactful. Babylon and Persia were both large entities that enjoyed, above all else, land and peace. They neither loved nor hated Israel, but they wanted the land upon and trade across which it stood. Borders changed, kingdoms rose and fell, all independent of the Hebrew religion and later of the church. War, peace, love, and hatred all have their appropriate time (Ecclesiastes 3:8).
Just as a sword is a neutral weapon until picked up by the wielder, so the law’s nature can be changed by the people who use it. James briefly mentions the rich taking the poor to court, a sentiment reflected in the minor prophets. The religious establishment at the time used a secular court to assault Jesus and Paul, among others. Today, Christians are persecuted in nations such as China and Egypt, simply because their faith isn’t normal for the majority.
It would be easy and valid to point out that the system is rigged, but that fact doesn’t matter in the long run. The system doesn’t care that it’s rigged, only that it survives. Threats to the system, such as the Jewish insurrections after Jesus’s resurrection, only result in making an enemy of the system, and the full force of the system crashing down on the dissidents. From there, the only difference between success and failure is the relative strength of the system. Even success may bring unintended consequences, making the pursuit of justice worse than the injustice itself.
As an alternative, work within the system can be used as a defensive tool. Paul never took others to court (after his conversion to Christianity), but he used his ample knowledge of the law to translate the situation into words that Festus could understand. Paul was not causing chaos, and, in fact, the high priests were the ones upsetting the status quo. He appealed to Caesar, citing a niche aspect of Roman law. Because of that, if he was successful, Nero could have become the first Christian emperor. Esther approached Xerxes and petitioned for him to save her people. In doing so, she rooted out the corruption in her own sphere of influence and stopped a genocide. Because the systems were strong, neither of these two had anything to gain by fighting them. Perhaps, if the system was weak and corrupt beyond repair, such as King Saul’s regime, the overthrow of the system could be equally glorifying. Instead, by using the system, God’s people were set on the path to greatness. For everything there is an appointed time. There is an appropriate time for every activity under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1).
The world is too often oblivious to the spiritual war that happens every day, in every country. The world will fade away, but good will triumph. Keep waging your personal war!