Obey or Resist?

Paul and John seem to disagree with regards to the authority of government. In Romans 13:1-7, Paul says:

1 Let every person be subordinate to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been established by God. 2 Therefore, whoever resists authority opposes what God has appointed, and those who oppose it will bring judgment upon themselves. 3 For rulers are not a cause of fear to good conduct, but to evil. Do you wish to have no fear of authority? Then do what is good and you will receive approval from it, 4 for it is a servant of God for your good. But if you do evil, be afraid, for it does not bear the sword without purpose; it is the servant of God to inflict wrath on the evildoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to be subject not only because of the wrath but also because of conscience. 6 This is why you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. 7 Pay to all their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, toll to whom toll is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.

However, in Revelation 13: 4-17, John writes:

4 They worshiped the dragon because it gave its authority to the beast; they also worshiped the beast and said, “Who can compare with the beast or who can fight against it?” 5 The beast was given a mouth uttering proud boasts and blasphemies, and it was given authority to act for forty-two months. 6 It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling and those who dwell in heaven. 7 It was also allowed to wage war against the holy ones and conquer them, and it was granted authority over every tribe, people, tongue, and nation. 8 All the inhabitants of the earth will worship it, all whose names were not written from the foundation of the world in the book of life, which belongs to the Lamb who was slain. 9 Whoever has ears ought to hear these words. 16 It forced all the people, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to be given a stamped image on their right hands or their foreheads, 17 so that no one could buy or sell except one who had the stamped image of the beast’s name or the number that stood for its name.

How can we square these?  Paul says all authority comes from God.  John says that Roman authority (the Beast = Domitian) comes from the Dragon, who is Satan. Paul says not to oppose authority; the whole book of Revelation is one long resistance text to the Roman Empire.  Paul says to pay taxes; John implies that it may even be necessary to boycott Roman currency to remain faithful to the Lamb rather than worship the Dragon.  Thoughts?


4 Responses to Obey or Resist?

  1. Michael Williams says:

    Just off the top of my head, perhaps we should also include in the discussion the statement, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and render unto God what is God’s.” 🙂

  2. Debra Schluter says:

    I agree with Michael. These were my initial thoughts exactly — I went to leave a comment along the same lines yesterday, and then got distracted. I think we need to consider “Render unto Caesar ….” as well as when Jesus talks about “my sheep know me, they know my voice, and they follow me,” etc. One of the first things that catches my eye and heart in this passage from Revelation is the line “who can compare with the beast and who can fight against it?” Well, I stand back and answer, “God.” There is such an absence of God, even any acknowledgement of God in it, and that would be my first clue that this authority is not about me or God and I have no duty to obey. It says that all the inhabitants of the earth obey the beast/dragon, all whose names were NOT written in the book of Life, which belongs to the Lamb that was slain. May all our names be written in the book, may we all belong to the Lamb who was slain. I ask this in the name of the LORD, Jesus Christ.

    • Debra Schluter says:

      And thank you for asking the question, for bringing these two passages up — I think it is well worth considering and I appreciate the opportunity to ponder it and discuss it.

  3. Brandon says:

    I turn to Thoreau and other social activists when considering how to respond to governance. My latest thoughts relate to Bob Dylan’s lyrics, “Your gonna have to serve somebody, …serve somebody…, Well it may be the Devil, or it may be the Lord, but your gonna have to serve somebody…serve somebody…”

    I’ve tried to escape this conundrum. But I think, in the end, our actions always become part of some bigger plan, which is in fact, bigger, i.e., beyond our full comprehension, whether that be the ploy of an institution or a nation. That’s not to say we can’t seek and always more complete understanding of what ends our actions serve.

    I think when we get a better understanding of our Lord and our Devil it becomes easier to acquiesce to more immediate forms of governance, e.g., my Lord would not want me to contribute to any war whatsoever, therefore I refuse to pay taxes. Or, my Lord says that wars must pass, and considering the alternative of not fighting, He implores us to fight for freedom and justice for all, therefore I will pay taxes, and I’ll also do my part to be an active participant in keeping the Beast under us, under our control.

    So maybe there are two different types of authority here. The authority God places in the hands of governments, and the authority that the Devil is constantly trying to acquire.

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