I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our relationship to the government. Early this year, there was a big brouhaha over gun control, which, thankfully, did not result in greater restrictions. Yet. No doubt that will happen at some point, but I’m grateful for our current liberty.
Most recently in my thought process was the New Mexico Supreme Court decision, in which it was stated that a photographer has no right to refuse services to a “commitment ceremony” involving two homosexual participants based on religious conviction. Justice Bosson stated in his opinion that religious compromise is “the price of citizenship.”
Certainly, numerous other examples could be stated which challenge every Christian. We have been commanded to be in subjection to the authorities God has placed over us. At the same time, we ought to obey God rather than man. This is a difficult topic for all believers. It is not one which should be approached lightly, and deserves much prayer, study, and prior determination.
Peter writes that governments are appointed for the punishment of evildoers. Throughout history, that has largely proven true. Even godless governments tend to enforce laws that uphold the Ten Commandments: do not murder, do not steal, etc. Granted, they do not uphold them for the right reason (glory of God), and they are selective by ignoring the First Table of the Law, but they do punish genuine evildoers. Paul also writes in Romans 13 that rulers are not a terror to those who do good works. Once again, that is generally true. Obedience to the law, as a whole, means that one has nothing to fear from his government (political considerations aside for the moment!).
Ultimately, what is the responsibility of Christians? I believe the basic principle is stated clearly in the book of Daniel. The young Hebrew had been given much authority and influence in the kingdom. By the reign of Darius, Daniel’s wisdom and spirit had been noted by many in positions of power, especially the king. Daniel 6 notes that Daniel was placed at the top of three presidents who were directly accountable only to the king. Yet he was hated by those under him. This was certainly because of his heritage as one of the exiles. As a foreigner, from a conquered country, how could he rise to such prominence above natives of the land?
Those other governors did their absolute best to trap Daniel. They watched his life, no doubt with the lawbook in hand, seeking to find him in violation. But they could find no fault in him. His lifestyle was blameless, both in moral character and in obedience to the laws of the land. Yes, he perfectly followed the legal system of a pagan culture. And we complain about our laws! He was found faithful, not by a group of peers, but by his enemies. What a testimony he had.
Since the princes could not find Daniel in violation of the law, they had to find another way to snare him. Daniel 6:5 tells us of their plan:
We shall not find any occasion against this Daniel, except we find it against him concerning the law of his God.
Ultimately, the only fault they could find in Daniel was by manufacturing a law that would punish Daniel’s faithfulness. They recognized his absolute conviction by recognizing that a law in contradiction to God’s would force Daniel’s disobedience. They went to Darius and tricked him into signing a law against petition to any but the king. The law was signed, Daniel was found in violation, and he was cast into the den of lions. We know how God chose to deliver Daniel and glorify Himself.
That should cause us to consider our own lives. If we are honest, most of us would have to admit that one trying to find fault would probably not have to go to these lengths. That’s a convicting thought! On the other side of it, using the same tactics the princes used with Daniel may not work simply because we would obey the law rather than suffer the consequences.
May God grant us the wisdom and character of Daniel.
Then the presidents and princes sought to find occasion against Daniel concerning the kingdom; but they could find none occasion nor fault; forasmuch as he was faithful, neither was there any error or fault found in him. Then said these men, We shall not find any occasion against this Daniel, except we find it against him concerning the law of his God. (Daniel 6:4-5)