Who Chooses Our Government, God or the people?

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“Until we, as God’s people, determine to engage ideas and confront them with the truth of God’s Word in every aspect of our society, we will continue to be oppressed by the government we deserve (2 Cor. 10:5).” This was the conclusion of my last article. Not surprisingly, this article prompted the inevitable retort, “God is in control, so we have the government that God chose for us. Our responsibility is to accept it, being joyful in all circumstances.” Although I don’t doubt the good intentions of those who preach this, I do believe that, for many, this has become an unbiblical excuse to justify our inaction. Moreover, God can be sovereign without being responsible for our wicked governments.

The apostle Paul gives us no reason to assume that God institutes only the governing authorities that He wants to be empowered. Both Scripture and history are filled with examples of evil authorities who provoked God’s wrath. In the Old Testament, we read about king Ahab, who did more evil in the sight of the Lord than all the kings before him (1 Kings 16:30, 33). In modern times, we can’t help but think of infamous leaders like Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong. Are we to believe that God was unaware of the evil they would do? If not, then why would a righteous God, who loves justice, choose to empower such evil leaders? Surely there must have been at least one righteous alternative in these nations? Indeed, in the days of king Ahab, there were at least 100 faithful prophets, not to mention Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 18:13). Are we truly expected to believe that God wanted Ahab to be king above all else?

At this point in the discussion, the “God is in control” crowd typically seek refuge in the mystery of God: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’” (Rom. 11:33–34). However, this retort fails to recognize that, while there is much that we do not understand, there is also much that we can know because God has revealed it to us. One such revelation is that we are capable of persuading God to grant us a different government than the one He wants to give us.

In 1 Samuel, we read that the Israelites persuaded God to give them an inferior government that did not please Him. Faced with a foreign threat (1 Sam. 12:12), the people worried that the prophet Samuel’s children would be poor leaders who would not possess God’s favor because they were unrighteous men (1 Sam. 8:1–5). This was certainly a valid concern, but rather than seek God’s heart on the matter, their fear drove them to demand a new government—and in so doing, to reject God’s governance (1 Sam. 10:6–22). God reasoned with His people by warning them of the consequences of such a decision, but they still elevated their own will above God’s will. This wickedness angered God (1 Sam. 12:17–18); nonetheless, God granted their desire and established a monarchy in Israel (1 Sam. 12:13). Moreover, God graciously promised to overlook this evil and to continue to bless the nation if they would remain faithful to His instructions under the new government (1 Sam. 12:14–15, 19–24).

At this point, we learn another important truth. Both the new government and the citizenry bear responsibility to remain faithful to God’s instructions: “If both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the LORD your God, it will be well” (1 Sam. 12:14). In other words, God may acquiesce to the will of the people when empowering a government, but His righteous expectations for that government do not change. This is the doctrine that undergirds Paul’s instruction in Romans 13.

Paul teaches that the authority of government derives from God (Rom. 13:1–2). As argued in my latest book, Heart of a Forerunner, this right to establish governments was conferred upon Noah in Genesis 9:1–6 when God granted humanity limited authority to take life, and by implication, charged humanity with the responsibility to preserve human life. Having reset the global order, God gave humanity an opportunity to reject sinful chaos and establish a new and righteous order. Unfortunately, sinful mankind soon corrupted this divine gift.

Regardless of whether the government is God’s ideal selection or an inferior choice of the people, God empowers it with authority. However, Paul also teaches that God appoints governors to be ministers of God who attend to the good of the people and punish evil (Rom. 13:4, 6). Romans 13 is just as much about the responsibility of governments as it is about the responsibility of citizens. When government functions in accordance with God’s intention, then “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, for he is God’s servant for your good” (Rom. 13:3–4).

Needless to say, a government that is not faithful to God’s instructions, that does not use its authority to minister to the needs of the people in goodness, and that does not use its sword to punish evil is not fulfilling God’s purpose for government. It remains the government that God instituted, but it is unlikely that it is the government God wanted to give the people. Rather, it is the government that God instituted in response to the people’s decisions—whether they be votes cast or lifestyle choices.

Therefore, God is certainly in control, but it does not mean that God is necessarily pleased by the outcome of our elections, or in the silence of His people regarding the immorality that is destroying society. In His sovereignty, God may have permitted us to choose our government, but I firmly believe that our decision to choose evil amendments to state constitutions—such as Michigan’s “Proposal 3, Right to Reproductive Freedom Initiative”—and unrighteous leaders who openly advocate for immorality—such as our nation’s first openly lesbian governor, Maura Healey—has broken His heart. And I believe we will be held accountable for our part in institutionalizing evil: “Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression” (Isa. 10:1).

“God remains sovereign” cannot become our excuse to remain silent on moral matters that are headed to the ballot box. It cannot be our excuse to refuse to engage in the political process—at least on matters that are fundamentally moral. And it cannot be our excuse to simply accept the election results and move on rather than continue the fight to restore righteousness. Instead, we should be filled with a sorrow that leads to repentance (2 Cor. 7:9–11). We should humble ourselves (Psa. 51:17) and repent of our refusal to adequately represent God’s heart on moral matters in our society (2 Cor. 5:20). We should confess our sin (1 John 1:9) and mourn our failure as we draw near to God (James 4:8–9). And we should resolve to resist the devil’s advances in our society (James 4:7).

We can acknowledge that, as God’s people and as citizens, this is an acceptable time to weep and mourn (Ecc. 3:4)—particularly for the loss of innocent life that will follow this election—and we can groan over the realization that the wicked are ruling over us (Prov. 29:2) without denying the joy that we maintain in our knowledge that, regardless of what happens in the short term, our future is secure. Indeed, we can be sorrowful while still rejoicing in God’s sovereignty (2 Cor. 6:10), and we can accept that no government comes to power apart from God’s permission without believing that our holy, righteous, and just God wants to see evil empowered.

God will work His will despite the failures of His creation (Rom 8:28), and because of this, we can cast our anxiety over this election upon Him (1 Pet. 5:7). This is why we can be joyful even as we are sorrowful, and we can rejoice that we are on the side of the ultimate victor (Php. 4:4–7). This knowledge leads us to be prayerful and thankful in every circumstance (1 Thess. 5:16–18), but we cannot use these promises and principles as an excuse to refuse to resist evil and to uphold righteousness—whether on this side of the ballot box or the other.

God is, indeed, in control, but let us not use this as an excuse to be inactive and silent on moral matters. Our Christian duty is to engage ideas in every arena of life and to bring them into alignment with God’s instructions (2 Cor. 10:5). In the end, we have nobody to blame but ourselves if we find ourselves groaning under the government we deserve because we failed to adequately resist evil and uphold righteousness.

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Timothy Zebell

As a former missionary to Asia for twelve years and the author of several books, Timothy is passionate about helping people understand the relevancy of God's Word in today's world. His goals are to help Christians discern truth from error, empower Christians to speak into cultural matters with relevancy, and to help Christians capitalize on the opportunities that these matters provide for sharing the truth about God and His gospel message.
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