FROM THE ARCHIVES of Every Thought Captive magazine.
There are at least three different ways to despise the state, two of which are flat wrong. The first, I would guess, represents none of you. There are, nevertheless, in this world, people who hate the government precisely because from time to time they manage to be a terror to evil. That is, sometimes the state arrests thieves and murderers, and thieves and murderers don’t take too kindly to it. Commiserating with this crowd about the evils of the state probably isn’t the wisest thing to do.
The second group is by far the largest. These are the folks who hate the state because it all too often is a terror to good. Our service to others is hindered by their roadblocks, while our own comfort is hampered as well. When my move-in date to my new house is delayed because some building inspector determines that, in case of fire, I need to be able to turn off the electricity to my house from the outside (and who, pray tell, gave us this legislation, the State Association of Cat Burglars?) I get frustrated and angry. When I must pay this tax and that, rent on my own property, I get frustrated and angry. When the state seizes my wealth, hinders my travel, and gums up the operation of my life, I get frustrated and angry. When I am traveling down the road only to be stopped that I might show the state my “papers,” I get frustrated and angry. I’m not suggesting that the beefs aren’t legitimate. They are indeed. The problem with them, however legitimate they may be in themselves, is that they are selfish. God did not put me on this earth with this instruction, “Now, make sure, whatever else you do, that you keep 70% of your income.” Neither did He tell me not to pay Caesar when Caesar mistakes my land for his. Their foolishness is a real burden to me, about the equivalent of walking a mile or two.
The rarest group of state haters, however, have an altogether different motive. One such man prayed this way, “You shall break them with a rod of iron; you shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.” Here he speaks to God, about the state. That’s a rather more potent complaint than grumbling under your breath while writing a check to Internal Revenue. What drives this kind of righteous rage? A righteous complaint- “Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us.’”
The psalmist’s complaint isn’t that the state has done wrong to the psalmist. Rather he objects to the state’s rebellion against God and His lawful authority. What ought to concern us isn’t getting our toes stepped on, but seeing God dishonored. If we were consumed with God’s glory, and indifferent to our comfort, we would always get this right. To put it another way, the problem with the state isn’t so much what it does, but what it thinks it is. The evil thing about the state is that it seeks to sit upon God’s throne. It claims the power and authority of the state, an affront to the living God.
The problem with Pharaoh, in a manner of speaking then, wasn’t that he enslaved the children of Israel, but that he remembered not Joseph, nor in turn the God of Joseph. God, speaking through His servant Moses speaks what may be the most stirring words in all the Old Testament, “Let My people go.” Pharaoh’s response seals his doom, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, nor will I let Israel go.” Here is the great evil, that he would not submit to the Word of God, and thereby would not submit to God Himself.
Moses shared the psalmist’s line of thinking. He stood before Pharaoh, he succeeded in his calling, precisely because his beef was neither personal nor earthly. This is what separates heroes who stand up to tyrants, and rebels who bring destruction on themselves. This is why, as the exodus drew to a close, that Joshua asked the wrong question of the captain of the Lord’s hosts. You remember as Joshua contemplates the challenge set before him, as he walks alone outside the city, only to discover he wasn’t alone. He approaches the warrior and asks, “Are You for us or for our adversaries?” Jesus answered rightly saying, “No, but as the Commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Our warrior king reminds His soldier whose war they are about to fight. The problem, as Achan forgot, wasn’t that the people of Jericho were sitting in the city that belonged to Israel. They were sitting on God’s city, the city He consumed first in defeating it, and then consumed again as a whole burnt offering. Those who aligned themselves with either Egypt or Jericho were destroyed. Those who fought for themselves were likewise destroyed. Those, however, who enrolled in the Lord’s army, tasted the victory.
Nothing has changed. Worse perhaps than both wrong versions of people who hate the state are those who love the state. These are they who beseech the state for their daily bread, who ask the state to lead them not into temptation, who cheer on a president who crosses land and sea to deliver us from evil. Their judgment will be the same. There is but one safe haven, one safe loyalty, and that is to Christ and His kingdom. All others are the broad path to destruction. It is not just kings but all of us who must learn to be wise, to be instructed, to serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling. We too must kiss the Son, lest He be angry and we perish in the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are those who put their trust in Him.
From Every Thought Captive magazine, a production of Highlands Ministries