Does God choose the powers that be?
In the wake of controversial comments made by President Trump in response to ongoing events in North Korea, an evangelical adviser to the president released a statement that argues, “God has endowed rulers full power to use whatever means necessary — including war — to stop evil.”
Citing the biblical passage Romans 13, Southern Baptist Pastor Robert Jeffress of Dallas, Texas, said in a later interview with the Washington Post that Trump has every right to meet with “fire and fury” North Korea’s flexing of its burgeoning nuclear arsenal.
In the King James Version of the Bible, Romans 13 reads, “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.”
Q. Are President Trump and supreme leader of North Korea Kim Jong-un leaders “ordained of God”? If God does choose the “powers that be,” and those powers are at odds, is Romans 13 a Biblical justification for war?
Romans 13:1 clearly states that: “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” 1 Peter 2:13-14 says: “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.” So we see that God establishes all governmental leaders in the world, including President Trump and supreme leader Kim Jong-un.
But God also holds those leaders accountable to honor him with the authority he gives them. The fact that some leaders do terrible things does not make God terrible. It means those leaders are terrible. Romans 13 gives leaders the authority to lead their nation into war, but it also holds them accountable to do so in a justifiable and proper manner. Romans 13:4 states that “if you [or, by implication, a foreign power] do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.”
Pastor Jon Barta
I don’t pretend to know God’s will, but the results of the popular vote conducted by people made in his image would suggest that Trump was neither ordained by God nor the American people. In many of our lifetimes both Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton nearly got themselves disordained. Since we all have to guess, I’d bet that God neither ordained Trump nor greenlit “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”
What I do agree with is something my mother told me: “God helps those who help themselves.” I am certain she did not mean, “God helps those who help themselves to the desecration of the office of president.” Instead,what she meant is that fortune favors a diligent, efficient worker, and as soon as thoughtful religious types diligently and efficiently stop tripping over themselves to excuse this mockery of a president, they can wake up and join with the rest of us in diligently, efficiently reversing the beeline to entropy that has become synonymous with this administration.
The Bible justifies many things in addition to loving one’s neighbor and honoring our parents. It often justifies slavery, intolerance and war.The men who wrote the Bible served their own ends in declaring their opinions had divine provenance. It is up to sober, educated people to see where war’s justification lies, if at all.
Vice President Unitarian Universalist
Community of the Verdugo Hills (UUVerdugo)
I’ll leave Supreme Leader Kim to the Korean experts, but Trump I can say for sure was ordained U.S. President by: 1) fewer than 80,000 votes scattered propitiously in strategic precincts of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania; and 2) an undemocratic historic relic of our country’s slave-owning past, the Electoral College.
Before I go on to our second question, please know that all the many religious believers I am close to reject any notion that their supreme spiritual beings bless war, or that anything in their holy writings justifies war.
That said, the idea of a supernatural being, even if said being is so widely shared an idea as to be the cultural norm, is still not real. Real humans, not imaginary beings, are in charge of human affairs. Religious writings should no more guide secular decisions than stories of the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus.
I am sorry if this comparison offends believers. I am offended by horrible and strategically pointless wars of choice; by our costly military occupations of numerous nations; and by our forceable interference in other countries’ affairs.
God is the great lawgiver; man is a lawless sinner. If God hadn’t ordained government to order mankind, we’d be a murderous lot of barbarians, and so he commands us to obey our laws, and refers to every governor as his “minister … for good” (v4). If we obey our governors, we’ll have a good reputation and a civilized society. Now verse 3 reveals the intended nature of our governmental heads, saying “rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil.” You see, both America’s president and Korea’s chairman are to be to their people agents of lawfulness and good thriving. They are meant to be peacekeepers and maintainers of order. If, however, the leader is an enemy of good, a terror to his people, and does evil before God, he himself will be judged, and the wrath of both heaven and Earth will be upon him.
All leaders are known by God and are either permitted or specifically placed by him. Sometimes a people clamor for an evil king, and God gives them what they obviously deserve. But God can put whomever he wills in the seat of authority, so any way one looks at this, “There is no power but of God.” Which raises the question, what happens when a Hitler makes it to the top, or a modern example like Kim Jung-un, and what to do about them? It could be argued that the cultures behind such despots facilitated their rise to power, and from lack of resolve or concern for their fellow man, brought the awful results upon themselves. When considering how Hitler came to power, then persecuted Jews to death, and then began invading other countries to spread his poison and overtake the world, it’s no wonder much of the world allied to destroy his regime. Today, the Korean dictator leads an officially atheistic government that persecutes religious minorities (especially Christians) to death, massacres entire clans of perceived dissenters and threatens those outside his borders with nuclear missiles. If his threats become perceived as legitimate, war will be fully justified to end his reign of narcissistic terror.
Finally, keep in mind the strong verse of balance regarding government’s authority: “If we have to choose between obedience to God and obedience to any human authority, then we must obey God” (Act 5:29 VOI).
Rev. Bryan A. Griem