Christians are weird about politics. If they’re in favor of a president, they’re quick to use the Scriptures to tell us that God puts all authorities in charge and that we are to follow and respect them. This simple-minded, blanket-statement theology immediately falls flat once someone like Hitler is in office, but we’re willing to ignore that if we can use Scripture to endorse our favorite leaders.
We need a more robust view of political theology if we don’t want to keep falling for this trap. Yes, on one side of things, we have Paul telling us that resisting God’s instituted authorities is resisting God; we have Jesus telling Pilate that Pilate only had power because God had given it to him; and we have John telling us that Jesus is the ruler of the kings on earth. But on the other side of things, we have Hosea saying that some kings were chosen without God’s input; we have stories where God removed kings (even ones he himself appointed); and we have the clear-as-day evidence that politicians often don’t follow God. So what do we do with all of this information?
God is not a God of chaos, but of order. Therefore, he has set up places of authority in the spiritual and physical realm to keep things flowing toward order. Deuteronomy 32:8 tells us that when God divided the world by languages at Babel, he assigned all the nations (except for Israel) over to the little-g-gods. Now if these gods were to image the one true God correctly, they would have guided the physical authorities within their nations to love well and take care of the poor. But all we have to do is look around to realize that the gods didn’t do that. That’s why in Psalm 82, God called the gods into his courtroom and proclaimed judgment over them, telling them that they would one day die for all of their injustices. But this judgment doesn’t seem to change the fact that these gods are still in power for now, nor does it change the fact that their nations continue to follow them into sinful places.
Therefore, Paul’s point isn’t that we should do whatever politicians say because they’re all “chosen by God” and doing his will. Paul’s point is that God is a God of order who has set up authorities in this world to maintain justice, and if we do unjust things, we should expect punishment from them. Of course, politicians don’t always maintain justice, as demonstrated by the fact that Paul ended up in their jails, or that Pontious Pilate used his God-given powers to put Jesus on the cross. And in Revelation, John certainly didn’t see Jesus as “the ruler of the kings of earth” in the sense that the rulers of this earth are doing everything Jesus would have them do—that much is clear by how often Jesus and his followers are up against the kings of the earth all throughout Revelation.
The point is that God is a God of justice and order, and he has set up the spiritual and physical realm to image him in matters of justice and order (even though they often choose not to). Both the imagers of the spiritual and physical realm have let us down, but we can recognize God’s touch in moments when justice and order break through into our society. Furthermore, Jesus’ throne is higher than any other physical or spiritual throne in existence, so these lesser thrones can be assured that they will have to answer to him for their sins on the day of judgment.