Tag Archives: Citizenship

Wrestling with Subjection to Authority

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.
Romans 13:1 (NIV)

For the record, I don’t belong to any political party.

I was just reminded this morning of a passage in The Lord of the Rings when Pippin asks the Ent, Treebeard, whose side he was on. “Side?” Treebeard replies. “I’m on no one’s side, because no one is on my side.”

Along my life journey I have respected certain leaders from both of the major parties here in the States, and I have had personal disdain for leaders from both of the major parties. I’m thankful for living in a representative republic. There is always the possibility of change in every election cycle.

Paul is writing his letter to followers of Jesus in Rome during the time of the Roman Empire. One of the reasons the Romans were able to control such a large area of the western world for such a large period of time was the fact that Rome tended to bring and maintain a certain amount of law and order wherever they ruled. While there were always those unhappy with Roman occupation, there was a certain understanding among the common population that the system of Roman law and order was better than the chaos which was often the reality when a local tyrant or warlord reigned.

In today’s chapter Paul provides a fascinating perspective as he tells the followers of Jesus living in Rome itself to be subject to governing authorities, to pay their taxes, and to respect those in authority. This is the Roman Empire. The Jewish authorities in Jerusalem, whom Paul once worked for, have an entire terrorist network developing which is going to erupt into outright rebellion in about 20 years from the writing of Paul’s letter. Even one of the Twelve apostles came out of the anti-Roman Zealots. But Paul is direct, authoritative and unequivocal in stating that authority is a construct of God, so we must respectfully subject ourselves to government authority.

A couple of thoughts on this. Underneath Paul’s teaching on this matter is an understanding that on the eternal, cosmic, Level 4, Great Story perspective all things are moving toward the end of the Story, which is already written. If we want to get into the notion of God and eternity existing outside of the dimension of time then one might argue that it’s already happened. Maybe you need another cup of coffee before wrapping your brain around that.

There is also plenty of precedent from the Old Testament (Paul was a lawyer by training, remember) that God raises up and uses certain kings and rulers (Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar, for example) who were not the most benevolent leaders. Even David respected and viewed Saul as God’s appointed authority and refused to depose and kill the mad king when he had every reason and opportunity to do so. In telling the Roman believers to subject themselves to their Roman authorities, Paul was channeling thinking and teaching that was quite ancient.

Then there is the most fascinating fact that Paul is a Roman citizen. This is no small detail. It’s a huge deal in his day and age. Roman citizenship was extremely hard to come by and afforded the person all sorts of perks in Roman society. Paul states elsewhere that he was born a Roman citizen, so he grew up enjoying the protection and status of that citizenship. Paul will soon use that status to appeal his upcoming conviction to Caesar himself. Paul will end up a prisoner in Rome itself.

What’s ironic is that Paul and the believers he’s writing to in Rome will be scapegoated by Caesar, blamed for the Great Fire of Rome to cover up Caesar’s own culpability, and they will be persecuted mercilessly. The Roman authorities to whom Paul is telling the believers to submit will throw them in prison, cover them in wax and light them on fire (while still alive) to illuminate Caesar’s garden, feed them to the lions in the Coliseum, and execute Paul by chopping of his head. By the way, beheading was another perk of Roman citizenship. If Paul had not been a citizen he’d have suffered a much more agonizing death by crucifixion, which was the gruesome fate awaiting Peter in Rome.

Would knowing the end awaiting him change Paul’s charge to subject themselves to Rome’s authority? I don’t think so. A few weeks ago I reminded our local gathering of Jesus followers that Jesus told Peter about the death by crucifixion that was awaiting him after His resurrection. Once again, the present, Level 1 daily circumstances were lived with an eternal, Level 4 perspective.

This is one of those mornings when, in the quiet, I have more questions than answers. What about…? What if…? Despite all the questions, I’m reminded that I’m not always going to like those in authority. I’m reminded that being respectful and lawful is part of being a “living sacrifice” (see yesterday’s post). I’m reminded that Jesus subjected himself to cruelty and a completely unjust execution after a series of kangaroo court trials before religious, secular, regional, and Roman authorities to whom He was always respectful. He knew that his Level 1 circumstances had Level 4 purpose. So did Peter. So did Paul.

That is whose footsteps I’m following.

Still a Small Cog in a Broken Machine

O my people, your leaders mislead you,
    and confuse the course of your paths.
Isaiah 3:12b (NRSV)

As I write this post, the United States is amidst the most strange political season in my lifetime. In fact, data indicate it may be the most unusual presidential election in our relatively short history as the two major candidates are the more unpopular than any since we gained the ability to track such things.

In my life journey I’ve observed that all human governments are given to corruption. Even the Vatican, a relatively small independent state presumably dedicated to Christ, is constantly fighting corruption (especially at the Vatican Bank). All human organizations are run by spiritually broken human beings. In the case of national governments you will find leaders who are given to indulging their self-centric appetites. Rules are rigged to favor the incumbent, to hold on to power, to profit from power, and to maintain the status quo. Every human government from socialist to monarchy to representative republic shows evidence of this fact.

This should not come as a surprise to any follower of Jesus.

Jesus said that He came to proclaim to us the Kingdom of God. But, He made it clear that the Kingdom of God is not like the Kingdoms and governments of this world:

Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”

This morning I am, once again, reminded of my dual citizenship. I am a citizen of the United States and a citizen of God’s Kingdom. One is temporal, the other eternal. One is of this world, the other is not. Citizenship in the latter does not excuse me from my responsibilities in the former. In fact, it only makes me more responsible. God’s kingdom compels me to exercise my civic rights and responsibilities in this world as a representative of God’s kingdom.

Like many other Americans, I am not excited about any of the choices our political system has given us this election cycle. Like all human governments, our is ultimately broken. Nevertheless, I have a responsibility as a citizen of this system to be considerate, to be part of the process, and to vote as I am led. Leaders may confuse and mislead, as the prophet Isaiah reminds us this morning, but it does not exempt me from my own personal responsibilities as a small cog in the imperfect machine.

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Keeping it All in Perspective

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Chapter-a-Day Psalm 47

God reigns above the nations,
    sitting on his holy throne.
Psalm 47:8 (NLT)

It is sometimes hard not to get sucked into the vortex of current events. As I write this post the United States is a week from our presidential elections. You can’t turn on your television without seeing non-stop political advertisements. Political ads are now popping up on-line everywhere as well so you can’t even escape them on your computer. Here in Iowa, which is a swing state, our phones are ringing off the hook with recorded messages and survey takers. Newspapers and television news media are talking about little else. To be honest, it’s all a bit of a crazy maker.

One of the things that I love about our daily trek through God’s Message is the much needed perspective it often provides. This morning provided a good reminder for me. The truth is that I hold dual citizenship. I am at once a life-time citizen of the United States and an eternal citizen of the Kingdom of God. Presidents will come and go every four to eight years and God will still be on the throne.

It’s easy to feel a certain amount of anxiety and fear when we’re in the climactic hoopla of a national election. This is especially true when advertisements from both sides are telling you that the alternative to their candidate is doomsday. Yet, God reminds us time and again to step back and remember that things are all ultimately subject to His eternal control.

Sweet. Which way to the nearest monastery? I think I’ll become a hermit for the next ten days or so.