The other day, I was watching a special about the fall of the Berlin Wall, wherein an East German escapee said that people who have only known freedom cannot imagine what it is like to live under an oppressive government. This is quite true. However, the opposite is often the case, as well: People who only known an oppressive government cannot imagine what it is like to live under freedom.
This is quite personal to me, as my two older children are still remaining in China after my wife and I left. While they were not born in China, in many ways China is all they really know, and so to them the daily outrages that occur in that country (sometimes before their very eyes) are normal. They struggle with life, just like people everywhere else, but in addition to this they must cope with the effects of living under an utterly lawless and corrupt system that is inherently abusive and oppressive, despite whatever minor “freedoms” they might enjoy, such as the ability to download Hollywood films illegally, the ability to dump garbage in the middle of a park, or the ability to doctor milk products with plastic powder in order to fool chemical tests into saying that the watered-down milk has more calcium (and therefore, milk) than it actually contains. What makes it worse is the chorus of self-hating Americans that constantly proclaim the lie that the US is just as bad, if not worse, than China.
No it isn’t.
Not yet, anyways.
Having never really lived anywhere else, my children are essentially inured to what is going on around them, it seems. They should be eager to flee the place as soon as opportunity allows, yet somehow they are content to stay, however bewildered they might be that life in such a dysfunctional system is so difficult.
And they are not alone. China is full of people who are seemingly content, but only because they have never known anything else, and because they have been conned into believing that countries which enjoy the fruits of freedom and righteousness offer no real alternative.
Is it really right to accept such a situation as the new normal? To define-down freedom so that all it really consists of is the ability to eat (but then only sometimes, and who knows if the food is really safe?). Is this really the way God wants us to live? Or, is it that God is trying to use the situation in order to force us to make changes in our lives or even, at times, our governments?
Yesterday, while I was mulling over this question, my mind was turned to Samson, of all people.
Before Samson was born, an angel appeared to his mother and foretold his birth, saying that Samson would “take the lead in delivering the Israelites from the hands of the Philistines” (Judges 13: 5). During that time, the Philistines ruled the land, and were oppressing the Israelites. Oddly, however, Samson seemed unconcerned with this oppression and the greater geopolitical implications of Philistine rule. Samson took the lead in delivering his people, not because he was concerned about anyone else besides himself or was even striving after freedom or righteousness. Rather, the whole thing started because he was interested in a Philistine girl. The story is long and involved. The key point, however, is that it was God who orchestrated events to get Samson stirred up: “His parents did not know that this was from the Lord, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel” (Judges 14: 4). God wanted a champion to deliver his people, but Samson was uninterested in being a champion, so God had to poke Samson with a stick in order to accomplish his goal.
There are many people who quote Scriptures about authority in justification of doing nothing and calmly accepting whatever crap-sandwich others have given them. To them, God’s use of Samson to help destroy the Philistines must be hard to explain. After all, it says in Romans 13: 1-7 that,
Let everyone be subject 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, whoever 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 you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents 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 as a matter of conscience.
This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
It must be noted here that Paul is writing in general about the idea of government and about obeying the law. He is not talking about individual rulers or governments. He is not saying, for example, that Obama (or whoever the current president of the US is), is God’s man of the hour and that we have a responsibility to kowtow to him and obey him in every respect. I know, however, this this is indeed what is taught by some people. However, Paul could not have been saying that, or else we would have the absurd situation of God ordaining Hitler, Stalin, and Mao to lead their countries, and instructing Christians to obey them in every respect, even if it meant blaspheming God or murdering children.
This cannot be true. I refuse to believe that God established Hitler as the ruler of Germany, and commanded Christians to obey Hitler in every respect. Hitler was a usurper who took over his country by use of illegal means, and who ruled over a lawless regime of terror. By definition, a lawless usurper cannot be an extension of God’s authority on earth, otherwise God himself would be a lawless usurper. (Yet, ironically, the Nazis themselves used Romans 13: 1-7 in an attempt to cow Christians into supporting their regime, and because many Christians were weak-minded and were not grounded in proper theology, they went along with the travesty of Hitler’s rule.)
Instead of saying that Hitler’s rule was established by God in the sense that he was an instrument of God’s righteousness, is it more likely that God allowed to Hitler to take power because he was wanting to provoke others to take a stand and become instruments of God’s righteousness, by destroying forever everything that Hitler represented?
The people of Germany had tolerated this flirtation with anti-Semitism, paganism, tyranny, blood lust, and military glory for long enough. It was time to put it to an end. However, because the people of Germany had become inured to this unrighteousness, the unrighteousness had to be allowed to flourish and run its course until someone, somewhere was willing to to take a stand and say, “Enough! By God, enough!”, and then do whatever it took to destroy it completely. The motivations of the men who fought Hitler may not have always been pure, and they may not have always been righteous, but God used them for his righteousness to destroy what was evil.
Those who know the Bible know that God had intended to destroy the Philistines because of their unrighteousness (which including sacrificing their own children in fire), and that was one reason he brought the children of Israel into the land. However, the children of Israel did not finish the job when they arrived, and in fact succumbed to some of the very same unrighteousness that the Philistines were involved in. This is why they ended up in slavery to the Philistines. God allowed them to be enslaved and oppressed so that they would eventually become tired of the situation and return to him, and so that he would finally find someone willing to say “Enough!”, and therefore destroy the evil in the land, even if that man had the wrong motives.
There is no set rule regarding the actions of every person in every place when it comes to the tyranny of evil. Some people are called to endure. Some people are called to flee. Some people are called to prison. Some people are called to prayer. And finally, though one hopes that it will never come to that, some people are called to fight. However, no one is called to submit to the tyranny of evil, and no one is called to be a slave of man. As it says in Galatians 5: 1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
If oppression and tyranny are from God, it is only because he is trying to poke us with a stick and get us out of our stupor, to get us to return to him, to return to righteousness, and then throw off the yoke of tyranny and destroy the evil behind it.
The real problem is, sometimes it takes an awful lot of hardship before people are willing to wake up and take a stand.