I am shocked if the title does not scare you off. The first have will have you moaning, “Oh no, he’s going to pontificate on political matters. Like we need more of that.” The second half might put you off with the expectation of deep studies of weighty theological matters. In some ways this post will be both political and theological, but then again, if we think about it, almost everything we do is political (in response to and affecting our community) to a degree, and certainly theological (in response to and reflecting God).
If you have made it this far, I want to put you at ease. Simply, I want to look at some of Ron Paul’s remarks in a recent interview and use that as a spring-board to draw out some reflections on Romans 13 where Paul writes about the Christian’s relationship to government. The interview I will refer to below is Ron Paul’s interview with Sarah Pulliam Bailey for the magazine Christianity Today.
First of all, as you probably know, Ron Paul is a libertarian. That is, he holds to the position that government should take a hands off approach. Government should be minimal. For example, Paul comments on marriage (and ultimately the issue of homosexual marriage, by saying, “Biblically and historically, the government was very uninvolved in marriage. I like that. I don’t know why we should register our marriage to the federal government.”
Paul is not anything if not consistent with this approach. It carries over into foreign policy, where he argues we should stay out of the affairs of other countries, end all foreign aid, and set ourselves up as an example to the world.
In commenting on government’s role in marriage, Paul says, “As I mentioned in my talk, Christ doesn’t come and beg and plead for more laws. He pleads for more morality, and I think that’s very important.” Paul is right, Christ came to set us free from the law, and transforms our hearts in obedience to him. But the question is not what is Christ’s role in marriage, but what is governments?
The crux of the issue shows up when Paul discusses foreign policy. It shows up in this remark: “America is a great nation because it’s a moral nation and people go to church. Others should look and see the results, but I don’t believe in the use of force.”
So here’s the dilemma for Ron Paul. If government is to get out of the way and let the people do what they want, that will inherently lead to some level of anarchy (like the book of Judges, “they did what was right in their own eyes”). However, if the hearts of the people are “moral”, then presumably, what everyone will do will be good. People will give to the needy (Paul advocates ending government assistance since it is forced charity), for example. But here is the problem Paul faces, America is not moral. And oddly, even Ron Paul knows that.
In his remarks on foreign policy, Paul discusses whether America should intervene in a foreign nation when it is doing something that is bad. The example of Iran and the recent fiasco of a pastor who is awaiting death row is given as an illustration by the interviewer. Paul says America should not intervene, saying the government “can make a moral statement because there are infractions of civil liberties over there. Do we have any infractions of our civil liberties here? Plenty. When we’re perfect, maybe we can start considering that. But we don’t have the authority to do that. [It could] make a moral statement — but to use force, to say that somebody is treating somebody [poorly] in A, B, C country, so we draft young men and send them over there and say, “Pick up a gun and go in there and change their standards because they’ve mistreated people”? I cannot read that in the Bible. I do not get that from my understanding of what Christ taught.”
In other words, we don’t have any right to act to stop them, because we have shortcomings too. My mind cannot help to change the illustration. What of America’s intervention in World War II? Should we have let Hitler press on, because, after all, we were not perfect?
All of that length commentary on Ron Paul to get to this: What does Scripture have to say about the role of government? In Romans 13:1-7, Paul (the Apostle) gives us these truths about government:
1. Everyone, including Christians, should be subject and obedient to the governing authorities. This includes paying taxes, respecting the positions of those in authority, and adhering to the laws of the land.
2. God is the final authority that we must answer to. Ultimately, government is not final, nor is it our savior. Government will never make everything right, execute perfect justice, or bring lasting peace. Only God does that.
3. God has instituted government and the governing authorities. Government is put in place by God. God is over government. Proverbs 21:1 tells us that the heart of the king is like a stream of water that God directs wherever he wishes.
4. Disobedience to governing authorities is disobedience to God’s authority. However, God is the final authority, so if government contradicts God, then, as the Apostles did in the book of Acts, we must “obey God rather than men.”
5. Government is meant to restrain evil and reward good conduct. This is true, even though it will inherently do so imperfectly.
6. Government is in place and plays this role, because sin still reigns in this world. This is the fundamental flaw with Ron Paul’s approach. A government that lets the people do as they wish works only if the people want to do what is good. Paul understands that Christ has come to transform the heart of people so that they are no longer under sin and have a new desire to please God, however he fails to recognize that this new nature is only true of those whom Christ has made new, and not of everyone in America or anywhere else.