Much of the commentary in the media operates with the presumption that governments should somehow solve all the problems of our society. We can easily adopt the same expectation. Yet, I believe such optimism is not only unrealistic but most likely ungodly.
A biblical understanding of the nature of government and its authority can help us appreciate its limitations and rescue us from our prayerlessness.
Government, or the ‘State’, is not an embodiment of human achievement as some would believe, rather it is an institution given by God to bring a level of order and protection so humanity might be preserved. It is sin that makes governments necessary. In response to the sinfulness of humanity that began with the Fall, God brought in emergency measures. Among those measures was the authority of government to ensure the welfare of humanity and bring restraint to anarchy and self-annihilation. They exist as a servant of God for the good of humanity.
Paul asserts with clarity how the “authorities that exist have been established by God” (Romans 13:1) and so exist by divine right. However, he also equally explains how the resurrected Jesus is now seated “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:21).
Governments are servants of Jesus Christ operating in a fallen world. Their authority is limited in scope being totally delegated by Jesus and limited in time in that it is provisional and temporary ending with the return of Jesus. We are not surprised when they fail to deliver on their promises (again) or begin to operate in ungodly ways, because they are run by sinful human beings.
The Bible not only offers an alternative response to cynicism and despair, it helps us appreciate what it means to “submit ourselves … to every human authority” (1 Peter 2:13). We submit willingly, yet provisionally. All governments, while ordained by God, are subject to God. We may therefore find occasion to be involved in civil disobedience, not because we are rebels, but because we honour and obey Jesus Christ first.
God calls us to pray for our governments. Why? Because they have been instituted by God to promote and defend the common good of society and its citizens. However, we know they will never fully satisfy and will ultimately fail. They are like a sign of the world’s sinfulness and its need of one who will rule with righteous and grace. They encourage us to pray with the apostle John, “Amen. Come Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).
Stephen L Baxter