The last two days I've been reading Ellul's The Presence of the Kingdom. Fantastic book -- though many readers will find his somewhat elusive "dialectical" style challenging (Ellul writes, and thinks, in terms of antitheses.) Anyway, the book inspired me to re-study everything the Bible says about governments. I'm recording my reflections in an essay I'm writing for our new website that will be entitled God, Government and Christian Anarchy. (We've hit some snags, but hopefully the new site will be up pretty soon).
Here's a sampling. It's my reflection on I Sam. 8:1-22. I've come to suspect this text is absolutely foundational for a proper understanding for God's view of all human government. (You might want to stop and carefully read the text before proceeding).
It wasn't part of God’s original plan for humans to ever rule other humans. This came about because of the fall. I Samuel 8 indicates that one of the things God originally intended to do with Israel was to begin inching humanity back to this ideal, for up to this point in Israel's history they hadn't had a human ruler. True, God had occasionally appointed judges to settle disputes, but there had been no established government or positional ruler.
In the age in which Samuel lived, however, the faith of the Israelites wavered and they wanted a king “to be like other nations,” and to “go out before us and fight our battles.” In other words, the people felt having a king would give them greater security. They no longer trusted God to do this.
God responded to this request for a king by decrying,
…they have rejected me from being king over them. Like all the deeds which they have done since the day that I brought them up from Egypt even to this day–in that they have forsaken Me and served other gods…”
God pleaded with his people not to go down this path. He warned them that giving a person power over them would wreak havoc in their lives (vss. 11-18). What God knew – but what the people seemed incapable of accepting – was that when sinful humans are given power, they tend to use it in sinful ways. Exceptions to this are very rare, as history readily testifies. But the people would not listen. They demanded a king. So God reluctantly gave them what they wanted.
This passage reveals that governments are a concession on God’s part to humans who cannot trust God to rule them. Since humans are rebellious and insist on having them, God uses governments, as much as possible, to preserve as much law and order as possible (Rom. 13:1-5). But this doesn’t mean that God approves of them. Often in the Old Testament God used a wicked nation (e.g. Assyria) to punish Israel, only to turn around and punish the nation he used for being wicked (e.g. Isa 10). God uses what he does not approve. That’s God’s attitude toward governments. They are under the influence of Satan (Lk 4:5-7) and are inherently corrupt, but God nevertheless uses them to achieve his objectives, so far as this is possible.
By contrast, the Kingdom of God is premised on people trusting God as their sole ruler. This is simply what it means to live under the reign of God. It follows that Kingdom people should place no more trust in governments than Jesus did – which was none. If a government's laws happen to be consistent with the rule of God, we obey them. If they’re not, we follow the example of Jesus and disobey them. But either way, it’s clear that our behavior isn’t dictated by what government says, but by what God says.
This is why it's appropriate to refer to the Kingdom's view of government as "Christian Anarchy" (an [without] archy [authority]). Because we trust God and have pledged our sole allegiance to God, we are to have no trust in any of the the "archys" that are premised on not trusting God.
Think about it.