No matter who wins the election, we know God put them there.
I’ve heard this line or something like it a lot in Christian circles. It typically is followed by the commentary that God must be punishing us if the democrat wins, but God is blessing us if the republican wins. This is usually backed up by Romans 13 which is a passage that describes the relationship of authority between individuals, governments, and God.
I’m not going to say that it is necessarily false that God chose Trump (whether to punish or to bless), I want to pushback against the interpretation of Romans 13 that every single government official (whether good or bad) was effectively singled out and put there by God, and should therefore be respected and obeyed.
Those who want to go with the seemingly popular opinion that Romans 13 claims that all government officials are given authority by God tend to cite the first verse or two most heavily in my experience. These verses read, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”
Unpacking these verses a little bit, it does look like the author is saying that any and every government official has been instituted by God and should be obeyed without exception. This message seems even apparent given the fact that Paul was writing to Romans under the rule of Nero who brutally persecuted Christians.
Even though the reading I just described seems obvious, I think it is very oversimplified to the point that it actually misses Paul’s message. Paul describes governing authorities, but the question is what exactly those governing authorities are. The word Paul uses is not a word for officials as people. The Greek word (exousia) that Paul uses is more closely related to governing authority in the abstract.
So we have to ask what constitutes governing authority. Paul expands on this topic in the following verses, “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.”
Let’s analyze these verses in detail. First Paul says that rulers (the first time he mentions the agents who actually have governing authority) will cause those who do good to have no reason to fear. Therefore one who has governing authority encourages that which is good through their rule.
Next, Paul mentions that one who has governing authority is God’s servant who not only rewards good, but also punishes evil. We then see that governing authority requires adherence to morality as described within the Christian framework.
Finally, Paul mentions that those who have governing authority are ministers of God.
So a closer reading of Romans 13 reveals that holding governing power requires several things. Primarily, it requires that the governing authorities uphold an objective concept of what is good for society (what that good actually is would be a topic for the volumes that have been written on the subject, but suffice it to say that there is an objective idea of good for society). Therefore it is not rulers themselves who have power. They are simply ministers of pre-existing authority derived by the authority that comes from being in line with what is good. It is the upholding of goodness that constitutes governing authority, not a mere title handed down by men.
So what do we make of a “ruler” who does not rule in accordance with goodness? That is, what happens if someone holds a title of man’s authority, perhaps that of emperor or President, but does not by that which fits Paul’s aforementioned description? It is important to realize that Paul does not say that all rulers are instituted by God. Paul is very specific in saying that governing authority is instituted by God. There is no authority inherent to a title. The authority is inherent to the upholding of goodness. Therefore a ruler who does not abide by civic goodness ceases to be a legitimate holder of governing power.
The true message that Paul seems to be giving is that an emperor has no authority when they carry out evil rather than good because they do not fit the requirements for governing authority. Paul was not telling the Christians of Rome to automatically obey any public official. He was subtly communicating in a very sophisticated way that there is a hierarchy of authority from which officials derive their governing power. Paul was not preaching complete submission to Nero in his wickedness. To the contrary Paul was teaching in a very nuanced way that the Christians of Rome had the ability to hold Nero’s actions as a man-made authority to the standard of true governing authority.
So what does this mean for President Trump? It means that the man is not who God instituted, God instituted the authority by which a man may or may not maintain his authority. Therefore, Romans 13 does not teach that Trump, or any other President, was divinely instituted and ordained as a ruler. Rather, the men who come to such positions by some means or another must abide by God’s mandates in their civil rule.
There are examples of God miraculously intervening and implementing rulers to be a blessing or a scourge to a people, but that does not mean that God divinely implemented all rulers. Romans 13 demonstrates that whether a man came to a position of man-made authority by the natural course of civic life, or if a man was directly placed into authority by God Himself, a ruler only has authority as long as they adhere to a higher standard.
It is possible that Trump was divinely implemented to benefit or punish America. However it is equally possible that Trump was selected by men without God’s divine hand intentionally placing Trump in power. It is a subtle distinction, but it is the same kind of distinction that we recognize in nature. Sometimes nature is left to its own course which was set in motion by God in which God allows man to do good or evil, or sometimes God intervenes and temporarily sets aside the determined course of nature to more directly accomplish his purposes.
Given the evidence, I am more inclined to believe that Trump is the result of the natural course of a nation filled with imperfect people acting within the grand narrative ordained by God. But I cannot deny the possibility that God in some way intentionally intervened to place Trump in a position of man-made power. Either way, Romans 13 is clear that if Trump does not adhere to God’s mandates in his governance, his governing authority ceases to exist until he rules within the bounds of goodness.
Latest posts by Kyle Huitt (see all)
- When Talking Heads Become the Minds of a Civilization - October 23, 2017
- What Everyday Christians Need to Know About Apologetics When Their Beliefs are Under Fire - October 17, 2017
- Can We Please Stop Calling Intellectual Rejects “Woke?” - October 4, 2017