- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 13, 2016

With the 2016 campaign season now in its third month, we’ve all had plenty of opportunities to consider the relative merits of the candidates. And we’ve even been led down into the gutter to consider the merit of candidate’s relatives, like their spouses and children.

But probably the most talked about angle of the GOP nomination has been religion. Headlines ask “Does Cruz tithe enough?” or “Was Trump wrong for saying the Pope was wrong for saying that Trump isn’t a good Christian?”

Although we’re told to avoid talking about religion and politics, the daily newspaper proves that people take an interest in the intersection of those two tempestuous topics.

On a much more basic level than partisan politics or presidential primaries, I’ve been asked many times the question: Does God involve himself in the what we call “human affairs”? In particular, does God intervene with government and authorities?

Here are five texts from the Bible that provide a brief starting point for answering that question in the affirmative.

1. Governing authority is from God.

The primary go-to text for understanding how Christians are supposed to relate to government comes from Romans 13:1-17. And in the very first verse we read:

“For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”

This means all authority is derived (obtained) authority. Authority doesn’t self-exist, but has been established by another, and that other is God.

Now, as soon as I hear those words, I immediately think about all the horrible governments. And the pretty bad governments. And the decent-but-flawed governments. So, what does it mean that God established them all?

If you’re asking that question too, then hold on, and I promise we’ll come back to it in another post. Today’s only goal is to answer the question of whether God acts at all in human government.

2. God “turns” kings.  

Proverbs 21:1 “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever he will.”

Think about that metaphor: a hand dipped into the flowing water of a stream. Move the hand and the water changes direction. Or use those hands to build a dam and the water stops altogether.

This verse communicates sovereignty. God exercises sovereignty over the “king’s heart” — meaning, the very mind and consciousness of the king. It doesn’t say anything about the king being good or evil, a pagan or a man of piety. All of that is inconsequential here. Simply put, the hand is in the water, and the water turns according to the will of the hand.

3. God can choose to alter the lives of many people by directing the plans of one king.

Here is the beginning words of an Old Testament story that makes this point explicit, both by the narrator Ezra and also the words of Cyrus, the Persian king.

Ezra 1:1-2 In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.”

The Jews had been in Persia for 70 years during “the Babylonian Captivity” God allowed as judgment for the nation’s rebellion. But the time of judgment had ended, so God directed this king of Persia (modern day Iran) to let the Jews return home and rebuild their temple. He even gave them back the gold and silver objects stolen from the temple decades before and kicked in extra funding for the project. 

Put that story in a modern context between Iran and Israel. We understand that the lives of many people in both Iran and Israel are directed by only a handful of leaders. Do these leaders move and operate free from the control and direction of the God who created the universe? The Bible’s answers “no.”

4. God is the source of wisdom needed for a just government.

Proverbs 8:15-16 By me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just; by me princes rule, and nobles, all who govern justly. (Proverbs 8:15-16 ESV)

The “me” of these verses is “wisdom” and the source of all wisdom is God. Even when a particular ruler claims they are not religious, to the extent that he or she governs with justice, this flows from the common grace of God. That is why the prayer of the Christian towards those in government, no matter the political party, should be: “God, give them wisdom to govern and decree with justice.”

5. God controls the times and the kings, even when the times and kings are bad for God’s people.

Remember Daniel, the Old Testament man who the king threw into a den of lions, though he lived to see the next day?

Some people in the Bible survived lions and swords and furnaces of fire. Others did not. Later, God gave Daniel the opportunity to interpret a dream for the king of Babylon. Daniel alone was able to do this, and he wanted the king and all the king’s men to know that God was the source of the interpretation.

And so, we read these lines from Daniel, a captive in a land far from the home of his fathers: 

Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; He removes kings and sets up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding. (Daniel 2:20-21)

Daniel, though not living truly free nor in the land of his own choosing, still thought rightly about God’s sovereign involvement in government and over authorities.

Come what may for the people of God, they maintain belief that God “removes kings and sets up kings.”

***All verses from the English Standard Version (ESV).

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