Romans 13, Again.

(Image courtesy of Vectorstock)

I saw an FB post yesterday, which got me thinking on the matter of Christians’ duty to government in light of Romans 13, its use and [apparently growing] misuse. I paraphrase the post’s author’s last sentence: How should the Christian contribute? I very much appreciate the post and the sentiment behind it. Here is my take on the815534 matter.

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Before continuing, a disclaimer: I understand that there are those in this country who will agree wholeheartedly with whatever the President does and says. For them, he can do no wrong. On the other hand are those who will disagree wholeheartedly with whatever the President does and says. For the second group, the President can do no right. There is a third group, the sane ones in the middle. It is to this third group, and particularly to fellow believers in the group, I wish to share my thoughts. Now, back to the matter at hand…

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Speaking as a minister, the Christian’s privilege and duty is to pray. It is a privilege–we get to talk to our Heavenly Father and pour out our hearts’ contents. We know he listens and we are comforted that he already knows our burdens even before we open our mouths. Those apart from Christ do not have the privilege of such a Fatherly audience. It is our duty–we are called to pray for others and also ourselves. We are to do so selflessly, seeking the salvation and welfare of those around us. We are given this privilege and duty so that we are reminded the ultimate purpose of prayer is not to get whatever material blessing we want from the Lord but to have our wills aligned with his. He is our Master, not our personal Genie. Yes we as his children ask the Heavenly Father for our needs. This is a given but there is also the implication that, for reasons of his own, he will not give us everything we ask. Our being content in what he has given and being satisfied with answered prayer (whether the answer is yes or no) should be embedded in our Christian identity. It’s connected with honoring God, forgiving and seeking forgiveness, drawing on his help in times of temptation. It’s part of our growing up and being made in the likeness of Christ.

Of course, the whole of scripture is not just limited to the Prayer the Lord Taught His Disciples (I hesitate to call it the Lord’s Prayer, but I digress). The Scriptures are not just a collection of our favorite go-to passages and “mutterings of piety,” or words some people utter when they wish to project a certain type of holiness. The Scriptures rather are filled with passages which demand our attention, study, and application, even passages which mandate us to get out of our comfort zone and do what is difficult but necessary.

On such passage is Romans 13, particularly the section on submission to the government, which sadly has become a favorite go-to passage and muttering of piety . Now more than ever (at least to my mind) it is being bandied about as a “be-all-end-all” reply mostly by people extremely loyal to this administration on one hand, and those who refuse to rock the boat on the other. (Between those two extremes are myriad shades of gray, but again I digress.) The underlying impression given is that we are to totally submit to the authorities because they are ordained by God for the purposes of maintaining society. But does submission mean blind obedience? Does it mean bowing in agreement to everything the authorities do and say, even when the things they do and say don’t make sense? Does it mean just keeping silent when you witness all kinds of anomalies going on? Are we to just pray for those in authority and hope to God they suddenly do the right thing? The answer is no.

(As an aside, some pastors demand the very same thing, don’t they? Ever heard of “touch not the Lord’s anointed” auto-applied to these so-called men of the cloth? Whenever I hear that, it is highly tempting to “touch” them even more.)

Moving forward: Fellow believers we are not living in the days of Paul, where everyone was expected to bow to the emperor. We are not living in a communist country where free speech is non-existent. We are living in a nation which is Christian, or because of how deeply Christianity has settled on our national psyche, at least pays lip service to Christian principles. Despite our misnomer as a Christian nation, we still as a nation fear God. We also live in a society where people still hold on to democratic principles. As a nation we are neither the best examples of Christians nor of democracy, but we are what we are and we have what we have. One of the things we have is the use of any legal means at our disposal to remind our leaders why they are called to lead, and that they are answerable to a higher authority. There is the element of complaint–lets stop denying it–but this is not merely complaining (or “pagiging reklamador“). It is certainly not rebellion. It is exercising our God-given right to use democratically recognized free speech to air our grievances to a government which itself is mandated by democracy to listen to its constituents. I believe what makes it difficult for some to swallow is that many of those who “complain” do so not only out of concern for themselves but for the greater good of the nation. People complain because they are tired of incompetence. People complain because they are tired of indifference. People complain because they are tired of irrationality. (If you hear or read about senior citizens being made to line up in the heat of the sun just to get their financial support from the barangay, do you “just pray?” If you hear or read about how the government’s left hand seemingly neither knowing nor caring what the right hand is doing, do you “just submit?”)

Here’s the clincher–for many admittedly, maybe prayer is the only thing they can do. It could be out of fear, out of indifference, it could be because of any number of things, even denial (thanks, Pr. Eyriche). It doesn’t mean that just because some are limited to only pray then everybody should be limited to only pray. There is a place for praying, there is also a place to air our concerns, and there is always a place for action–godly, legal, ethical action.

Apropos the last paragraph: Sec. Duque, of the Department of Health came out recently to announce that we are already on the third wave of the pandemic, which surprised a lot of people, this writer included, because all the while we thought we have yet to finish with the first wave. Due to his latest pronouncement, many on social media are again calling for his resignation. Is the call for his stepping down as health secretary godly, legal, and ethical? The answer might surprise you. (The alternative is of course, to submit and accept that we are in the third wave. “Sumunod na lang kayo!” Sound familiar?)

Remember, fellow believers, that as Christians our eternal spiritual identity should take precedence over our earthly national or ethnic identity. While airing our grievances is a right, it should not be that for which Christians are primarily known. Which means before we air our grievances:

  1. We should pray in thanksgiving in line with our identity with the Lord Jesus Christ
  2. We pray for God’s mercy for ourselves and for others, particularly those in authority (As an illustration: I remember an anecdote by John Piper: He was once debating an atheist who said some nasty things about God. Piper prayed to the Lord to forgive the atheist for his words; he also prayed that the Lord would forgive him (Piper) for getting angry at the atheist’s attack on God.)
  3. We pray for wisdom that we don’t fall in line with those who blindly condemn those in authority. As I said in the beginning, there are those who will always find nothing right with the actions of those in authority. Let us not follow their example because that is a road which will lead to ruin. Government officials are neither angels nor devils. Let us deal firmly and kindly with them as the fellow bearers of the imago Dei that they are.

In the midst of praying, let us not forget our national identity so when we do air our grievances, we should do so in the spirit of Christian love for neighbor. Will airing our grievances change the world? No, but little by little, it does effect change in our society. We have seen the results of using social media to bring about some measure of change. Maybe that is God’s intent all along–to effect change through the prayer and action of his people.

In the meantime, how do the rest of us contribute?

  1. Are you a Christian doctor? Love the Lord your God in prayer. Thank God for medicines and for our progress against the virus, however slow. Then love your neighbor and do your duty in the areas of care, healing, and medical information (as I’m confident most of you are already doing).
  2. Are you a Christian teacher? Love the Lord your God in prayer. Thank God there is still something new to learn out there. Then love your neighbor and do your duty in the areas of broadening the minds of your students and giving them the desire to know more (as I’m confident most of you are already doing).
  3. On a broader note, are you a Christian “ordinary citizen”? Love the Lord your God in prayer. Thank God we still have a country. Then love your neighbor and do your duty by continuing to pay the right taxes and practice the spirit of bayanihan, including staying at home (as I’m confident most of you are already doing).
  4. Are you a Christian (insert your profession here)? Love the Lord your God in prayer. Then love your neighbor and do your duty in the areas where God has called you to serve (as I’m confident most of you are already doing).

I could go on but I believe you get it.

So let us be obedient to the government. We stay home when told because to do otherwise is to invite something worse happening to our country. Some of us are allowed to go out for necessities, as long as we follow the guidelines. Let us not abuse that allowance. Let us be good citizens of the Republic of the Philippines. More so, let us be good ambassadors for our God and Savior.

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