First let me quote the Bible – Romans 13:1-10 (The Message):
“Be a good citizen. All governments are under God. Insofar as there is peace and order, it’s God’s order. So live responsibly as a citizen. If you’re irresponsible to the state, then you’re irresponsible with God, and God will hold you responsible. Duly constituted authorities are only a threat if you’re trying to get by with something. Decent citizens should have nothing to fear. Do you want to be on good terms with the government? Be a responsible citizen and you’ll get on just fine, the government working to your advantage. But if you’re breaking the rules right and left, watch out. The police aren’t there just to be admired in their uniforms. God also has an interest in keeping order, and he uses them to do it. That’s why you must live responsibly—not just to avoid punishment but also because it’s the right way to live. That’s also why you pay taxes—so that an orderly way of life can be maintained. Fulfill your obligations as a citizen. Pay your taxes, pay your bills, respect your leaders. Don’t run up debts, except for the huge debt of love you owe each other. When you love others, you complete what the law has been after all along. The law code—don’t sleep with another person’s spouse, don’t take someone’s life, don’t take what isn’t yours, don’t always be wanting what you don’t have, and any other “don’t” you can think of—finally adds up to this: Love other people as well as you do yourself. You can’t go wrong when you love others. When you add up everything in the law code, the sum total is love”.
I quote at length because this passage is cited by some at this time of Corona lockdown, often to put Christians in their place who feel inclined to disobey the government as they impose restrictions on civil liberties, supposedly to curtail the worst effects of the Corona virus, regardless of the efficacy and consequences of such measures. I am mindful, even a quick search of the Internet, many have offered their thoughts. Like many, I seriously question the rightness of the various dictates, which in the past week or so has meant placing each area of my country into one of three tiers of severity, supposedly linked to how serious the threat is, saying what is allowed or not. On three separate occasions, I have been inconvenienced as people outside my Tier 1 area are not able to meet with those from the adjoining Tier 2 area. In all these instances, we agreed to follow the law, even though it seems to me a silly law. Moreover, the various consequences of Covid-19 lockdown has, in my view, been a ginormous overreaction given the perceived benefits of lockdown measures has been hugely outweighed by the damage done to economy, health, education, social (to name four).
But what do I know? Even if I can cite any number of “conspiracy theorists” (who are vilified and often shut down or censored) to challenge the “official narrative”, what difference will that make other than upset those who go with the flow, often content to exchange their lack of freedom and inconvenience with the hope they will be far less likely to die from Covid-19, egged on imho by a dishonest media and unscrupulous politicians keen to milk that fear. Moreover, I can make no claim to being expert in the subject – in fact, far from it! Also, like many, I feel frustration that I can do little to change things, although as I am increasingly becoming mindful, I can change my own attitudes and use the opportunities (and they do exist, mercifully) that have arisen. But back to the Bible …
Going back to Romans 13, the text quoted is pretty clear – we are meant to obey the government and that is part of our being good citizens. There are exceptions of course. For example, when the apostles were forbidden by the authorities from preaching, they responded “we ought to obey God rather than men” Acts 5:29. But then me, who happens to be living in a Tier 1 area, not meeting up with a friend in a Tier 2 area is hardly a matter of disobeying God, one may argue. Sometimes, with certain restrictions, it is getting close, for example when churches are shut down but not other places – begging the question of whether doing so is government overreach and the beginnings of persecution. And then there is the huge heartbreaking socio-economic and health costs, and for what? But then church is not about meeting in buildings. But then again this passage, along with another one often quoted, 1Peter 2:13-15, had in mind an ungodly government rightly maintaining law and order and not shutting down the practice of one’s religion.
When studying the Bible, the point I regularly make is it needs to be studied in context. Regarding the book of Romans, the first eight chapters is about marvelous Christians doctrines and vital gospel truths and the next three about the special place of Israel. Chapter 12 starts off by telling us we need to be living sacrifices to God – which brings us to our passage, which ends up by reminding us of the paramount importance of loving our neighbours, which has all sorts of ramifications. It is also worth reminding ourselves it is Paul’s letter to the Romans, who while they were ruled over by despotic rulers, who would soon be persecuting the Christians and, in just a few years destroying the Temple in Jerusalem and a lot more, were also about providing stable government. The fear that the Roman authorities had that this new sect posed a threat may well have been negated by the words Paul wrote.
And yet, do we stand by and let bad government continue? Consider the USA, it was born out of people, often led by Christian ministers, rebelling against tyrannical British rule. Consider the overthrow of communist in Eastern Europe and the tearing down of the Berlin wall, would that have happened if one took a narrow view on obeying the powers that be? What about Nazi Germany, responsible among other things for the murder of six million Jews? The German church clearly adopted a literalist interpretation of Romans 13 and Hitler and his evil cronies were able to do what they did, and the rare rebels, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer paid with his life. My point is it is not black and white and while we should obey laws we disagree with, there comes a point when enough is enough. Throughout the world, many now suffer awful oppression due to bad government.
Early on in the Covid lockdown, I wrote a prayer which was my remonstrating with the Almighty about all what was happening. Somehow, I thought the lockdown and loss of civil liberties, cost to the economy, peoples mental health etc. would be temporary and yet the light at the end of the tunnel is still a long way off and who knows what more twists and turns and at what point we (or rather me) starts disobeying government that seems (imho) to be veering toward inept tyranny. Regretably, when the five British Anglican archbishops recently opposed government plans to withdraw from the EU with no deal, I was about to applaud them as my first reading was it was their Covid measures they were opposed to – but then I saw what their object was. While sadly unsurprised (it happens I agree with the government Brexit position), I did feel this was a depressing lack of leadership. They should be challenging government on Covid and calling the nation to prayer, for my reading of the Bible in context is that God allows calamities to happen to wake people up, in order to get them to turn to Him.
Gladly, there is evidence of this happening. I read: “Coronavirus has caused people to be more open to the Gospel than at any time in the past 50 years. This is unsurprising, for it is in times of crisis that people turn to prayer and seek spiritual consolation, asking deep question about our existence and being open to hearing from God our Maker”. This is the hour for the real church to step up to the plate. While restrictions on meeting raises concerns (personally, I cannot attend services when so many restrictions are conceded), the more important issues do not involve church buildings and services and the real church is not that associated with woke archbishops.
As for me, my Christian response, besides standard watching and praying, testing and weighing (all that is going on) is to draw nearer to God and to seek His face in these extraordinary times. I confess, my mind is not made up when it comes to civil disobedience and I am glad that in the main, even though I disagree with government policy etc, I can at least register my objections and can do the work God has called me to do, but for how much longer, who knows?