Last week a dear friend wrote about Romans 13 and we’ve been speaking of Romans 13 in Sunday school. Being as it is now the 4th of July holiday, also known as Independence Day, Romans 13 seems like a great topic. For those who don’t know, Romans 13 is about submitting to governing authorities and begins, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established…..”
Welcome to the odd juxtaposition that is American Independence Day, a day we celebrate having NOT submitted to governing authorities at all, in fact, we went to war with Britain. We also said “no taxation without representation,” and threw some tea in the harbor. Than there was the American Civil War, definitely rooted in NOT submitting to governing authorities. I could go on and on, all the way through suffrage, Civil Rights marches, but I think we can safely say the very essence and fragrance of America just flies in the face of Romans 13.
Being defiantly American, I’m going to take note of the fact that the KJV of Romans 13 really says nothing at all about “submitting” to “governing authorities.” The wording there is, “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.”
Myself, I prefer that translation because I like to perceive authority in terms of power. So, the idea of submit yourself to power greater than yours, is really just basic common sense, wisdom 101. If you are forever challenging authority, all power greater than yours, you’re really going to be quite miserable. Even the serenity prayer, (not in the bible,) says in part, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…” One thing we cannot change is the fact that there are always going to be authorities, people, circumstances, even “things” with more power than you.
It’s somewhat comical to me, America, born of defying governing authorities, will now proceed to buy illegal fireworks often sold on Indian reservations, fireworks made in China, and go forth and watch them blow in order to celebrate our historic (and modern) propensity for refusing to submit to any and all governing authorities. Add in the complexity of a republic, a democracy in which we elect our own leaders, and we have a complex power structure. Who are the actual “governing authorities?” In a way, we are, we the people……..at least when things are going good. If they aren’t going good, well, don’t look at me, I didn’t vote for them. Not my governing authorities….
It should come as no surprise that after a few hundred years of this complex power structure and defiant spirit, we would eventually progress into a country where a great many people actually struggle with the whole concept of authority and power. Even better (sarcasm there) we are now entering the realm of denying authority and power exist at all. “Not my President” is a good example of this sentiment. So is some of our rioting, protests, people going to war with cops, the destruction and redesign of the family, disrespect in our schools, addiction issues, etc, etc. All rooted in an unwillingness to “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers..”
What binds us together in America, what has always made some semblance of order possible within our chaos has been Christian values, values learned in the wisdom of the bible. What creates some appearance of cohesion within our diversity has been a willingness to wrap our brains around unifying themes like, “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.”
Paul’s words are both simple and complex. Complex because there are layers to them that can apply personally to our own relationships, that can speak wisdom over our own lives, but also complex because they reveal some truths in a political sense. In a country such as ours, we the people are the actual “governing authorities” when it comes to who our leadership is. Our leadership serves at the pleasure of the people. United we stand, divided we fall. So like it or not, we are often called to submit ourselves to the will of the people and to pray for our leaders, even if we don’t like them.
In truth however, the “governing authority” we are actually submitting to is God. In God we trust and in some ways, we put some trust in our fellow Americans, too. Nearly 1.1 million of them have now given their very lives in service to this country.
I hear that 44 million of us are now estimated to be traveling somewhere this week to celebrate Independence Day.
Happy 4th of July, everyone.