In Proverbs 24:21-22, God presents a question that is hard on most of us and particularly hard on me. “Fear the Lord and the king, my son, and do not join with the rebellious, for those two will send sudden destruction upon them, and who knows what calamities they can bring?” (NIV)
I comprehend the first part easily. I fear the Lord with a healthy respect, awe, and fear. I am not so sure of my respect for the “king”. I am unhappy with all of the governments over me. My unhappiness generally gets more pronounced moving from the local all the way up to the federal government. I am really afraid of what my government is becoming, but this fear has nothing to do with respect. I am very depressed about the condition of my country, particularly when I remember that I am at least partly responsible for its condition, and that I will soon be passing it on to my children’s generation. I am deeply saddened and discouraged. Proverbs 24, Ecclesiastes 8 & 10, Romans 13, and 1 Peter 2 present me with a very clear message about my duty to obey, the righteousness in obeying, and the danger in not obeying the governments over me. I can honestly say that I do my best to obey, but I must add that it is not without grumbling and complaint and distrust.
The Bible makes several things very clear about government. Government is instituted by God and governs on His behalf. David’s reaction to King Saul’s attempts to kill him, offers great insight into proper respect for governmental office. Solomon told us that we have an oath to God to obey the king. Solomon also warned us of the difficulty of keeping disobedience to the government a secret and he pointed out the punishing power of that same government. Jesus affirmed the rightness of paying taxes. Paul even referred to government as God’s minister to us. Paul told us to pray for kings and all those in authority over us. Peter instructed us to submit to various levels of government. We must keep in mind that the governments they lived under were not known for fair and righteous governing.
In light of the above, is all civil disobedience wrong? Acts 4 & 5 indicate that some civil disobedience can indeed be right. Peter and John (and all the disciples) came to the conclusion that where government’s orders conflicted with God’s, they must obey God. The specific command in this case was an order not to speak any more in the name of Jesus. That is an easy one. We must speak in the name of Jesus. However, there are surely other cases in which the commands of government conflict with the commands of God. It must also be pointed out that the disciples willingly accepted their punishment.
Two things are painfully obvious. I must do a much better job of using my God given privilege as a citizen participating in the government that God has instituted over me. God has seen fit to have me born into a democratic republic where I still have quickly fading but still available opportunities to influence my government. My prayer for the authorities placed over me must grow greatly in quantity and quality. Surely, such time in prayer would improve even my attitude. Proverbs 24:22 tells me that the government can bring great calamity upon me. I am completely convinced of that. Why don’t I start now? Praying and participating I mean. But that might cut into my complaining time.