PREDESTINATION AND FREEWILL: PART SEVEN
(DOES GOD PREDESIGNATE GOVERNING AUTHORITIES)
Some Christians believe that it is God who determines the outcome of elections and it is God who places individuals into positions of governmental leadership. Does God place the leaders of the governments of this world into the positions they hold? What about leaders that turn out to be evil or are known to be evil before they take office. Did God place Hitler, Stalin, Saddam Hussein and Mio Tse Tung into positions of power? Collectively, these leaders were responsible for the murder of multiple millions of their own citizens. Did God place these men in power and if he did, did he know in advance they would become as evil as they did. If He did know in advance they would become evil and oppress their people, why would God place them in a position of dominion and power?
The belief that God is the one who appoints the rulers of our world governments to their positions of leadership is based on several Scriptural passages. Let’s take a look at these passages.
In Daniel the second chapter, we find that King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had some troubling dreams and he had asked some of his magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers to interpret his dreams. He wouldn’t reveal the content of his dreams to them because he knew they could just make up something as to what the dreams meant. Instead he insisted they first tell him what he dreamed and then offer an interpretation. They, of course, couldn’t do this and the King determined they were all frauds and ordered them all killed along with all the wise men of Babylon.
Now Daniel and his three friends, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, (AKA: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) were part of the group of Babylonian wise men that the King ordered to be killed as seen in Daniel 2:13. When Daniel found out what the King had ordered, he obviously was concerned. So he asked to speak directly to the King. He was granted permission to do this and he asked the King to grant him a little time and he would be able to tell the King what he dreamed and interpret the King’s dreams as well.
He apparently was granted the time and Daniel returned to his home and explained the situation to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. He urged them to plead for mercy and that God would reveal what the king had dreamed so that they, along with the other wise men of Babylon, would not be killed. (Daniel 2:18). Their prayers were answered and the Kings dream was revealed to Daniel.
Daniel 2:19-23: During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven and said: "Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them (He removes kings and raises up kings, NKJV). He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him. I thank and praise you, O God of my fathers: You have given me wisdom and power, you have made known to me what we asked of you, you have made known to us the dream of the king."
It is Daniel saying that God raises up kings and removes them that is often seen as a universal principle and consequently it is believed all rulers are raised up and removed by God. Is this passage of Scripture informing us that this is indeed the case? Has God set up all the rulers of nations throughout human history and is He doing so today? Some believe God predetermines the outcomes of elections. Some believe the winner of the recent US presidential election was predetermined by God. Did God predetermine the outcome of the US presidential election and therefore it was actually God who elected the President? One Christian church website I visited showed the head pastor of a particular Christian church writing the following:
“In a democracy, where leaders are installed through elections, God determines the winners in advance. In the end, the “will of the people” has no power or effect, because God is in charge of the outcome of elections.”
Is this truly the case? Does God determine in advance who wins an election? Is it really true that the will of the people has no effect on the outcome of an election? If this is indeed the case, you would have to conclude that God in some manner manipulates enough of the will of the people to insure that His choice of candidate gets elected. While the will of the people may be expressed in how they mark their ballads, such expression is being manipulated by God so that His choice of candidate gets elected.
What about non democratic societies where there are no elections and where dictators and tyrants come into power against the will of the people and through military force suppress resistance and end up oppressing all those who resisted the takeover? Does God determine the outcome of such events and therefore determines who the leaders are going to be no matter how corrupt they may be?
When Daniel says God raises up kings and removes kings, Daniel is responding to the God who just made known to him the dreams Nebuchadnezzar was having and what those dreams meant. Daniel and his friends must have been euphoric in that they realized they and the other wise men of Babylon would not be killed. In interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, Daniel says the following:
Daniel 2:37: You, O king, are the king of kings. The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory.
Daniel says that God has given Nebuchadnezzar dominion, power, might and glory. Does this mean God, with specific purpose of will, raised up the man Nebuchadnezzar and placed him in the position of being king of Babylon and personally provided Nebuchadnezzar with dominion, power, might and glory?
In Daniel, chapter four, we read that Nebuchadnezzar became proud to the point of thinking that by his own power he had become the ruler of Babylon. We read that God struck him down and for seven years he lived like an animal until he came to understand that it is God who “is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes."
Daniel 4:32: You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes."
There is no question that God is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone He wishes. God has absolute power, authority, control and rule over His creation which includes the kingdoms of this world. There is no question God is the source of all power and authority. But does this mean He personally establishes particular individuals as the possessors and mediators of such power and authority or has God granted governing power and authority to man and allows man to use it and expects man to recognize where it comes from and how to properly use it.
Does God manipulate world events to the extent that all leaders of government are in their positions of power because God, with purpose of will, placed them in such positions? Or, has God simply granted man power and authority to exercise dominion over others and expects them to exercise such dominion in a righteous manner and when they don’t, he sometimes intervenes to remove them from office.
The Scripture says God gives the Kingdoms of men to anyone He wishes. Does this mean He always does this? Does this hold true in a society where elections are held and the will of the people is expressed. Is God manipulating the will of the people to insure His candidate wins? Does God have a favorite candidate in open and free elections? What about the thousands of local elections? Is God involved in every race for the senate, congress, governor, mayor, and district attorney? If you live in England, does God pick the Prime Minister and does God choose in advance the members of Parliament? What about totalitarian societies where leaders come to power by means other than elections or by fraudulent elections. Does God directly place such leaders in power?
We know from Scripture that God intended to rule Israel through judges but when Israel wanted a king like the nations around them, God allowed them to have a king and even personally choose Saul to be their king. God allowed the will of the people to prevail. It is apparent God wanted at this point in Israel’s history for them to have a king He felt would successfully lead Israel. Scripture reveals God was involved in the choosing of Saul as the first King of Israel. It is instructive, however, that years later God is shown to be sorry he choose Saul when Saul failed to follow God’s instructions regarding the total destruction of the Amalekites. It is also instructive that God did not choose all of Israel’s kings and leaders.
Hosea 8:2-4: Israel cries out to me, `O our God, we acknowledge you!' But Israel has rejected what is good; an enemy will pursue him. They set up kings without my consent; they choose princes without my approval.
It is apparent that the people of Israel set up kings and princes to govern over them who were not raised up by God. It is apparent God allowed this and was not always involved in the process of choosing their king and other leadership. Therefore, to use the statements of Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar as teaching a universal principle whereby God sets up all leaders of all nations is a misrepresentation of what these men said. There is no Scriptural reason to believe that God sets up evil men to have dominion and power over people and oppress people. There is no Scriptural reason to believe God set up Hitler, Stalin, Nero of Rome, or any other of the multitude of evil leaders who have come and gone over the millennia.
It is more reasonable to conclude such men appropriated the ruling power and authority God has made available to man and misused it in exercising dominion over others. It is evident God allows this to happen and not that God predetermines that it happen.
It must also be noted that the context of Daniel, chapters two and four has to do with God setting up and disposing Kings over nations. Nothing is said here about God being involved in the raising and falling of lesser governmental authorities. While God can choose the primary leader of a nation or any other leader, where and when He does this is at His discretion and we shouldn’t assume God is always doing this as the pastor I quoted apparently believes.
The pronouncements made by Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar as to God being sovereign over the kingdoms of men and giving them to anyone he wishes doesn’t demand God gives does this. In His sovereignty, God can just as easily allow leaders to come to power through elections, revolutions and military takeovers without His personal involvement. This does not in any way diminish the sovereignty of God. In His sovereignty, God can personally manipulate events in order to insured that a certain individual is placed into power. On the other hand, He can allow events to run there natural course and allow such events to produce there natural results and consequences.
Does God, in nations where elections are held, predetermine who gets elected? If He does, then the election process is rigged by God. God would insure that enough votes are cast for His candidate and all those who voted against His candidate will have virtually wasted their vote. The losing candidate and all those who supported such candidate would have virtually wasted their time and support on someone that didn’t have a chance because they weren’t God’s candidate.
I believe God does, where necessary, place certain individuals into positions of power and authority. Scripture shows God did manipulate events at times to achieve a certain result. Scripture shows God chose Saul to be King over Israel. Through the prophet Samuel, God choose David to be King. Did God then choose David’s son Solomon, or did Solomon get the job because he was David’s Son? 1 Kings, chapter one, simply records that David made his son Solomon King as David was about to die.
We see dynasties in operation throughout history where family members simply follow each other in succession. Historically, we see a tremendous amount of political maneuvering resulting in individuals coming to power through intrigue only to be replaced though more intrigue or assassination. To see God involved in all of this and responsible for who ends up governing in these volatile situations appears to go way beyond the intent of what Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar meant in saying God raises up and puts down kings. Their statements appear to be more of an acclamation of God’s sovereignty over the affairs of men than a specific identification of a how God acts all the time in regard to the establishment of individuals in positions of power and authority.
While God certainly does intervene when necessary to bring about events in a certain manner to achieve a particular result, there is good reason to believe this is not something God does routinely. As discussed throughout this series, God allows for the expression of freewill leading to freedom of choice. I see no reason to believe God routinely interferes with the expression of freewill and choice when it comes to choosing leaders.
This brings us to a related issue. Are Christians required to be subject to and obey all the dictates of civil government? Some believe we are to totally submit to civil government and this belief is largely based on what Paul said in Romans 13.
Romans 13:1-5: Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.
This instruction from Paul has been interpreted to mean that we must submit to all governing authorities because their authority comes from God. If we rebel against governing authority we are essentially rebelling against God since it is believed Paul is saying that all governing authority is instituted by God.
As we have already covered, all governing authority is established by God in that all authority given to man comes from God. Man could not exercise authority if God didn’t allow for it. Are we then obligated to submit to all governing authority regardless of what such authority tells us to do? What kind of governing authority has God instituted? Let’s answer the last question first.
God has instituted righteous governing authority. God has established moral law that says you are not to murder your neighbor, steal from your neighbor, lie to your neighbor or commit adultery with your neighbor. God has instituted governing authority to enforce His moral law. When we violate moral law we should expect to be punished.
Paul said that “he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For, rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong." We see here that the real issue is doing what is right versus doing what is wrong. What God instituted is governing authority to enforce the moral standards he has established. That is why Paul says “For, rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong." Governing authorities have been established by God to facilitate righteous behavior. We are to be subject to them in their enforcement of righteous behavior.
Paul said the governing authority is “God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. You see how Paul’s discussion of governing authority all revolves around doing right versus doing wrong. We see this same theme in Paul’s letter to Titus and in 1 Peter.
Titus 1:3: Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good
1 Peter 2:13-14: 13. Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.
We see over and over again that instruction to submit to governing authority is tied to doing right versus doing wrong. What if governing authority orders you to do wrong? What if governing authority demands you behave in a manner contrary to righteousness? We have Scriptural examples that show us how we are to react.
In Acts chapter five we read of Peter and other of the Apostles being ordered by the religious authority not to preach Christ. They ignore the religious authority and continue to preach the gospel message and are thrown into prison for their efforts. During the night an angel frees them from the prison and tells them to resume preaching the Gospel which they did. The religious leaders bring them before the Sanhedrin and accuse them of not heeding their strict orders not to preach in the name of Jesus. What did the Apostles reply?
Acts 5:29: Peter and the other apostles replied: "We must obey God rather than men!
The religious leaders had the Apostles beaten and again gave them strict orders not to preach the Gospel. But what do we find they did after being beaten and leaving the Sanhedrin?
Acts 5:42: Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.
Now the governing authority of the Jewish religious system gave strict orders to the Apostles to not preach in the name of Jesus. Yet it is obvious the Apostles did not submit to their governing authority. So here we have Peter, who in his letter writes that we should submit to every authority instituted among men, and yet here we see Peter not submitting to the governing authority of the religious leaders. Is Peter acting in a contradictory manner here? No he is not. What we see here is the differences between submitting to a governing authority that requires behavior in line with God’s will and a governing authority that requires behavior contrary to God’s will. This is a principle we see throughout Scripture.
Exodus 1:15-17: The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, "When you help the Hebrew women in childbirth and observe them on the delivery stool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live." The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live.
This example speaks for itself. The midwives were told to do something contrary to the will of God and they defied the Kings orders. It is apparent from the Scriptural examples we see that when Paul and Peter speak of being subject to governing authorities, it is plain they are talking about being subject to the dictates of such authority that are in line with God’s will. They are not saying we are to follow any and all dictates of civil government.
Here, however, is where we have to be very careful. It can be all too easy to conclude a certain government requirement is not in line with God’s will and think it OK to resist the requirement or outright disobey the requirement. If a civil authority orders me to do something that is obviously contrary to the moral and ethical laws revealed in Scripture, I am justified in resisting and not complying with such an order. I may have to endure the punishment of the civil authority, but I would be doing the right thing before God in resisting the order.
On the other hand, civil government requires many things of us that cannot be specifically identified as being or not being God’s will. God allows civil government to establish numerous laws for the purpose of regulating society. Paul and Peter’s instruction to submit to governing authority certainly includes submitting to such laws. We may not like some of these laws, but we are obligated to obey them. In a democratic society we have the opportunity to have laws we don’t like changed. That is what elections are all about. In the mean time, we are obligated to submit to and obey the laws established by civil authority as long as they don’t’ directly oppose the clearly known will of God.
God is the source of all power and authority. God grants man the right to exercise the power and authority He has granted. God’s will is that man uses the power and authority He has granted in a righteous manner. However, Scripture shows God allows people to place unrighteous leaders into positions of leadership and reap the consequences. A review of both Biblical and secular history bares this out. While it appears God directly choose some of the kings of Israel, other kings were chosen by the people, sometimes to their own hurt and destruction.
Our obligation to governing authorities is to be obedient to the laws and regulations such authorities establish provided they do not directly conflict with the moral or religious laws of God. If there are laws and regulations it is felt are wrong or unjust, there may be opportunity to bring about change depending upon the kind of government one lives under.
Above all, God wants us to strive to live in peace, godliness and holiness. We are to pray that our leaders will provide for the opportunity to do just that. Paul may have given the best advice of all.
1 Timothy 2:1-2: I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone-- for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.
Governmental leaders are going to do what they are going to do. We are to pray that what they do allows us to live peaceful, quite lives in all godliness and holiness.