By anyone’s measure, Adolph Hitler represents an archetypal evil leader whose reign of terror was powerfully augmented by the Nazi regime. Indeed, a person would be justified in thinking, ‘Surely God would endorse any genuine attempt to remove this malevolent influence from the world?’ Yet none of the pre-meditated attempts to assassinate the Nazi leader succeeded. Not one of the 42 attempts at direct human intervention, no matter how carefully planned and orchestrated, was able to remove this tyrant from the seat of power. In the end, it was a ‘hidden force’ that ended the reign of this dictator, driving him to take his own life in a Berlin bunker in 1945. The question begs, is there a subtle force more effective than the plans of powerful human agents?
It seems, recent demands made on citizens by Governments, as a response to the COVID19 Pandemic, has left many beleaguered Christians seriously considering their relationship to an increasingly intrusive, some would say evil, State; which, daily, appears to be stretching the boundaries of accepted civil liberties. Of course, most Christians would dismiss violent resistance as manifestly unchristian, yet more and more are seriously considering forms of non-violent resistance as a legitimate means of direct human intervention against the perceived threat of excessive government power.
However, there is one ‘major’ problem. Resistance, whether passive or active, is still resistance and as such contravenes God’s explicit command, ‘Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.’ Romans13:2 (ESV). This being the case, how does a genuine Christian deal with the potential threat of malevolent State powers, without willfully resisting the State’s divinely endowed authority and thereby defying God himself?
Well, there is such a way…
The trial of Jesus leaves us with the clear impression that the State authorities were unjust in their treatment of him. Pilate, after interrogating Jesus, as to the nature of his kingship, was left in no doubt that Jesus’ kingdom did not operate in the manner of this world—a kingdom where wilful resistance played no part. Nevertheless, he had Jesus flogged, allowing the cohort of Roman soldiers to also humiliate, mock, and beat him (John 19:1-4). Yet, Jesus, true to his confession and former teaching, does not resist in any way, ‘But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.’ Matt 5:39 (ESV)
Following on from these events, we witness this interesting discussion…
‘So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.”’ John 19:10-12 (ESV)
In this brief exchange, a very powerful truth is revealed, namely the nature of relationship between divine and human authority. Pilate claims to have ultimate authority over Jesus; both to release and crucify ( a conclusion doubtless drawn from Jesus’ passive response to the former abuse.) In response, Jesus candidly reminds Pilate, that any authority he has only exists because God has bestowed it on him. The implication being, the authority and power granted to a civil leader is, both, subject to and limited by God’s higher authority. Ultimately, as powerful it thinks it is, the State can only do what God allows.
Now, any serious student of history knows, all too well, that the rulers and authorities are, like any other human being, flawed, often corrupt, and sometimes quite evil.
So how do the apostolic authors of the New Testament, those who were commissioned by Jesus, walking in his ways, and instructed Christians in the same manner, correlate the divine validation of State power, even whilst that same power practiced evil against God’s own people? Well, the answer is revealed in an incidental piece of advice, given in one of Paul’s pastoral letters…
‘…the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.’ 2 Tim 2:24-26 (ESV)
In this text, Paul unveils another actor in the divine drama, Satan—the hidden force behind the evil State’s actions. Whether, the opponents Paul refers to are within the church or operating within the State, the important thing to note is the divinely granted authority of the opponents (assuming they are leaders) has been usurped by Satan, who then uses this authority for his own destructive purposes. Moreover, these ‘human agents’ are not actually seen as the enemy, rather they are viewed sympathetically by Paul, deemed as those who have been taken captive—naïve actors, unwittingly seconded by Satan to do his bidding.
At this point the true source of Christian opposition comes into clear focus. The ‘real’ opposition is not the unjust government leaders or malevolent detractors, but Satan himself. He is the one animating their ungodly conduct and orchestrating all their unjust actions. Finally, the anxieties and frustrations of beleaguered Christians, suffering under various forms of institutional evil, are able to find a way out of conundrum of competing obedience ( between God and State) and identify the real cause of their problems; finding in the Bible a legitimate outlet for their innate desire to resist evil.
For Satan (unlike leaders who are under God’s authority who are forbidden to be resisted) has removed himself from under God’s authority and, as such, becomes the legitimate subject of Christian resistance. Indeed, Christians are not only permitted to resist him, they are commanded to…
‘Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.’ James 4:7 (ESV)
‘Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.’ 1 Peter 5:8-9 (ESV)
Such a powerful revelation of truth now enables the Christian to adopt a plan of resistance that is not only respectful of God’s authority resident in the secular state, but potentially much more effective than any form of direct human intervention. This spiritual ‘resistance’ comes, not only, with God’s blessing but his commensurate supply. For, when God endorses something, he liberally endows the means to accomplish it!
Furthermore, Christians don’t have to invent a ‘new’ strategy for this super-natural resistance. The Apostle Paul, under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has provided us with a clear pathway forward, in his letter to the Ephesian Christians, he writes…
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. Ephesians 6:10-20
We must qualify though, Paul is ‘not’ outlining a plan how we can take-down-by-stealth, a secular government, whose social policies we may find unacceptable or incompatible with our religious ideologies; to the end we might enjoy life in society as ‘we want it’. Such prayers God would not honour. He is, however, outlining a strategy that would enable Christians to live an effective life in the world: A life advancing God’s kingdom, being moral salt and light in society, consequently providing a stable and peaceful environment in which the gospel might spread further.
So what does this strategy entail?
- Rely on God’s power: Paul commands Christians to gain their strength from God, not from fallible human strategy and strength. Remember our discussion regarding Jesus’ assessment of God’s authority over Pilate? Make no mistake, God has ultimate power; there is no power of evil that cannot be halted by him, should he decide to intervene.
- Put on the ‘full armour’ of God: Your adversary is incredibly powerful, and if you are to rely on God’s methods to overcome him, then you must take seriously this command to defensively prepare for battle. Without this protection, you will not be able to stand firm against his relentless attacks.
- Understand your enemy and his strategies: The first principle of warfare is to know your enemy. In this case the enemy is not ‘flesh and blood’. This is vitally important, for real the enemy is not the Government, not the political leaders, not the State bureaucracy or any other malevolent human actor on the political stage. The real enemy is a highly organised, well-structured network of powerful Spirit-beings (Demons) incredibly adept and with a long history of warfare against God’s people. No human method, strategy, or power can hope to defeat them. Only God’s form of warfare enacted on his terms will precipitate their defeat in the supernatural realm, which will have direct implications in the natural ‘political’ realm.
- Use God’s methods: ‘Putting on the armour’ is a metaphor for embracing God’s methods, which Paul states as: a. Truth: Relying on open truth and truthful methods, not lies and deceitful methods, the truth must ‘never’ be altered for political expediency, once it is, the battle is lost. b. Righteousness: The apostle James wrote, ‘ The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.’ James 5:16 (ESV) God will not respond readily to the prayers of the unrighteous. Moral holiness and power in prayer are inextricably linked. c. Gospel readiness: The battle is not simply won in defensive mode, other soldiers must be recruited to the cause of Christ, the greater number on God’s side the more effective the fight, as such evangelism is a key part of the strategy of defeating the enemy. d. Faith: The biggest threat to losing a battle is doubt, if by subterfuge the enemy can convince you that the battle is futile, he can quickly gain the upper hand. Faith in God is key, never allow doubts to erase that. e. Salvation: The assurance of victory is a great inspiration in the midst of the battle. Our salvation has been secured by Christ, Satan has been defeated. Even in the darkest days, we must never forget we are on the winning side. f. The Word of God: Paul calls the Word of God, the sword of the Spirit. It is the only offensive part of the armour, and wielded by a righteous person is highly effective in defeating the lies of the enemy. Too many Christians fail to take up the sword, or perhaps choose to fight with a blunt one. Taking time to read, study, and meditate on God’s word gives the Christian a powerful weapon against a cunning enemy.
- Praying always in the Spirit: Paul is not suggesting a formal prayer once a week in a church service. He entreaties Christian to be guided by the Spirit, in fervent, continuous, passionate prayer on behalf God’s cause, the church, and the Saints. It is not difficult to ignore the requests of an indifferent satisfied person; its much harder to turn away from the continual passionate pleas of a desperate man. That’s how God sees it.
- Directed intercessory prayer. Paul asks the Ephesians to be specific in the prayers for him and his ministry. The more detailed and directed prayer is, the more effective it is. To this end, Paul outlines a specific model for prayer as it relates to those in government authority.
‘First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.’1 Timothy 2:1-4 (ESV)
When Christians choose to act in their own ways to defeat a so-called enemy, failure is assured. But when their energy is directed toward the ‘real’ enemy, employing God’s methods, success is sure to follow. Of course, prayers are not always answered in the way we may want; the request will always be granted, but only in line with God’s greater will. Nevertheless, pray!
Oh yes, the conclusion to our opening story…
In 1940, the British Army was facing almost certain annihilation on the beaches of Dunkirk, France. On May 24th King George, called the English public to prayer. England prayed and God answered. Firstly, the relentless German blitzkrieg inexplicably halted just 10 miles from Dunkirk, for nearly three days. While England prayed as one, the tanks remained still. This provided a window of time for the British to form a defensive perimeter—enabling a funnel for their troops to flow through to the English Channel. Not only so, but unseasonably bad weather and rain slowed the German air attacks, which were further thwarted by a breeze that seemed to collect the smoke emitted from German bomb damage, layering it over the area the British were using to load men into boats. The British exodus went undetected, astonishingly aided by a huge flotilla of civilian boats of all kinds, many not ocean-going and none armed. By the 26th of May, the entire army had been evacuated.
The miracle of Dunkirk, clearly empowered by the prayers of the people, saved the English army. It then inspired a nation to pray again, enabling them to overcome the staggering opposition of Hitler’s air force during the Battle of Britain, which in turn enabled England to become the strategic launch pad for the European offensive that would eventually defeat the Nazis on the battlefields. As a consequence of all this, faced with the inevitability of certain defeat at the hands of the Russians and Allies in 1945, Hitler took his own life! Without the prayers of Christians at that critical juncture, the reign of tyranny might have been considerably prolonged.
In the end the war against evil was not won through military defiance, but through humble prayerful supplication.