Yesterday on Veterans Day I shared some thoughts on the justice of the state, a justice that is of God in a provisional sense for this time. Today I want to share a few thoughts on what we might say is the other side of the coin: the state’s authority to bear the sword comes with responsibility and accountability to do good for its own people as well as others.
Some see the passage in Romans 13 as essentially the end all, be all of the state, that its one responsibility is to protect its citizens and that’s it. I think this is a case of not reading the Bible well enough. We need to consider the entire scope from Genesis through the Revelation and we need to read the passages in light of God’s ultimate will of shalom which is much more than the absence of war, but a flourishing under the blessing of God. In this life one that especially emphasizes helping the poor which we find in the pages of scripture is a top priority of God.
When we read the prophets in the Old Testament/ Hebrew Bible we see the judgments in terms of the main and sub plots of the story, which certainly concerns God’s calling of Israel to be a blessing of the nations fulfilled in King Jesus and carried on today in the enlarged Israel, the church. And the overriding ethic is an important part of this. God’s will is certainly not simply individual freedom (along with rationalism, the emphasis of the Modernist Enlightenment which we are heirs of). God wants human flourishing and true human flourishing at its core is relational, in community. God judges all communities in terms of how they treat each other, or how the ruler treats their subjects, as well as what they do to other nations or peoples.
But just as this time is called evil, evident because of the need of protection from evildoers (see the Romans 13 passage), so we should not imagine for a moment that any state, any government can live out God’s kingdom. That is not the government’s calling, but only the calling, albeit now in its beginning stages to be sure, of the church. The church is to be the sphere as in place and people where we find the grace and kingdom of God in Jesus at work in terms of community, individuals finding salvation in and through Jesus and in community, of course through the word and the sacraments, and through the life shared together in Jesus. No other entity on earth can or is called to be what only the followers of Christ are called: the salt of the earth and the light of the world. The calling of the state is more of a humble calling. Paul and the early church used their protection from the Roman Empire for the spread of the gospel as well as for the good of the churches. And yet we in Jesus are called not only to believe but also to suffer for him in this world. As is true in life, what we find in scripture ends up being more complex than the lines we might want to draw, or any lines we attempt to draw.
And so our hope is not in the United States of America or any other entity, even though we pray and hope the best for all. But only in God’s kingdom come in Jesus found in him and therefore in the church. Even as we hope and pray for good in this world.