GOD'S KINGDOM AND MAN'S
The Kingdom of God & the Kingdom of Man
There is no reason to believe that the ethnic divisions of humanity are anything other than the gracious will of God working itself out in the genetic possibilities he gifted his creatures with.
Nor it is necessary to believe that the existence of governmental structures would have been offensive to God if they had been acting in loving submission and faithfulness as stewards of the sovereign Lord. It isn't authority in itself that God is offended by. (Perhaps this is usefully illustrated in the establishment of governing structures within Israel. People exercising authority over and for others as ministers of God is no sinful rebellion and, in any case, some sort of governing structure would be expected to exist even in a world completely obedient to God. Think of parental authority.)
But the (continuing) 'Fall' gave a complexion and character to those structures that would otherwise have been harmless, perhaps even completely beneficial. As it turned out, human sinfulness resulted in kingdoms and states that were alienated from God and corrupted by sin.
Be sure to see Colossians 1:15-16 along with 2:15. In 1:15-16 God through the one we know as Jesus created the powers and structures and yet in 2:15 God has to disarm/strip those very powers and structures. They became corrupt and corrupting. They needed to be given into the hands of the glorified Jesus and under his "new management" these powers are reconciled to God [see Colossians 1:19-20].
Daniel sees the kingdoms of the world as rising out of the chaotic sea a symbol for the nations in their power-struggles with one another. He describes them as 'beasts' that rise out of the sea and in this way speaks of their cruelty and irrationality. They are also said to arise 'out of the earth' which tells us they are not the 'kingdom of heaven'. So, their rise from the sea, their bestial character and their earthly origin set them all in contrast to the kingdom of God.
However, Daniel tells us that the winds of heaven are at work on the chaotic seas and this contributes to what arises from the sea [cf. Isaiah 17:12-13]. Numerous biblical texts speak of the invisible work of the Spirit of God under the figure of the wind from heaven [cf. Ezekiel 37:1-13]. In Genesis we have the Spirit of God moving on the face of the waters to fulfill the purposes of God (there is only one Hebrew word for wind and spirit).
So while it is true that nations make their own contributions to the rise of their kingdoms on earth, the sovereign Lord is at work using their will to fulfill his own purposes. The earthly kingdoms rise and remain or pass away as a result of the work of the God who governs the universe and uses the plans of men to further his own.
The reign of God, then, is not like the relationship between a chess player and the mindless, passive pawns on the board. Whatever model we use to describe the governance of God it must take into account both the elements we've mentioned—human choices meeting divine sovereignty.
Zedekiah of Judah called a summit of nations (Jeremiah 27:1-7) and it was at the summit that Jeremiah announced God's reign over the nations which would be seen through his 'servant,' Nebuchadnezzar. The psalms are filled with the claim that God's kingdom extends over all the kingdoms of the world. See Psalms 2, 47 and 67 as a few examples among many.
These kingdoms are used and commissioned by God to dispense 'creation goods' to the humanity he will not abandon. Creation goods would include things like societal peace, justice, food, shelter and clothing. Their function is to keep down anarchy and to be 'servants of God to do good' (Romans 13:1-7) by restraining societal wickedness.
These truths come to us from many scriptures. Paul would have Christians pray for kings and all who are in authority that peace might exist so that the gospel would have free movement and he calls on them to recognize the authorities as God's servant to do them good (1 Timothy 2:1-4).
Genesis tells us that 'the cries' that have gone up from the earth regarding Sodom were so bad that he had to come down to check them out (18:20-21). The Genesis text and Ezekiel's elaboration on it shows that God expected Sodom to administer justice and care for the needy. When they didn't do it, he brought them under judgment.
The early chapters of Exodus show that Israel's 'cries' go up to God on account of Egyptian oppression of these aliens. The word 'cry' is seen as a technical expression meaning a legal appeal (note the work of David Daube in his The Exodus Pattern in the Bible). In structuring the covenantal law, God calls on Israel to be righteous and to treat people with a glad-hearted justice remembering how they had been treated in Egypt. If they oppressed the needy and vulnerable, God said he would hear their 'cry' and would hold Israel accountable.
Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that tormented him and when he asked Daniel to interpret it, Daniel told him it was a warning that he must turn from his wickedness by doing what is right and 'being kind to the oppressed'. It's clear that Nebuchadnezzar forgot that it was God who gave him his kingdom and that he was to be God's servant and faithful steward of the creation goods put under his power.
So we see that these 'alien governments' are not only under God's control, they are subject to God's moral law. God holds them responsible for not practicing justice and righteousness and when he does, he may chastise them or remove them entirely.
The guiding principles of these fallen powers is enlightened self-interest. To gain their position of power they often provide the basic needs of the people under them but when they are 'fully in control' the power often corrupts them. But even though the powers serve themselves, it's normal enough for them to provide those things that God is pleased to give the people. Their self-interest serves God's purposes.
A man who creates a masterpiece, driven by his jealousy of another, still produces a masterpiece. A judge, for prudential reasons, may deliver a righteous verdict even while wishing he could pervert the course of justice, but it's still a righteous verdict. A preacher who preaches Christ out of envy still at least preaches Christ (Philipians 1). A government, for reasons of self-interest, promotes and provides creation 'goods' nevertheless provides creation goods and in this respect does the will of God. The motive may be unacceptable but the goods get to the needy which is what God wills and executes through the leaders. In this, Daniel or a Christian can cooperate while yet following a different purpose and agenda arising from different motivation.
Joseph, a part of the elect Abrahamic community, is able to work with the Egyptian state to provide for the citizens (and the other needy nations) the creation 'goods' that God wished for them. The means and methods of accomplishing this (when not distorted by power-broking and injustice) are in accord with the methods reflected in the 'wisdom' strand of biblical literature (say, Proverbs) and which wasn't confined to the elect community (cf. Jethro's advice to Moses in Exodus 18).
The OT community parallels the NT one today in this respect, despite variations of form and confession: They were communities created by God as over against other human structures. The governmental structures around Israel were under moral law to God but not under covenantal law to God (their Master Stories weren't the same, nor were their promises or ordinances, etc., etc). Because God wished to bless all nations with creation goods as well as redemption goods and because Israel couldn't get these creation goods to the world, God allowed, even required and enabled, the national structures to provide those creation goods even though they did not acknowledge him. It wasn't Israel's calling to provide creation goods for the world though they were to be a vehicle of creation goods to all the needy with whom they came in contact. [People who think that God's People are to offer nothing but religious truth while fellow-humans all around them and within the Church's reach are hungry, unemployed, homeless and suchpeople who think that haven't heard the voice of the God who gives sunshine and rain and fruitful seasons and gladness of heart to the evil as well as the good [see the Sermon on the Mount along with Acts 14:15-17; 17:24-25].
When Daniel interprets the judgment dream for Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4 he makes it clear that the Babylonian is under God's sovereignty and that God holds him accountable for the way in which he uses the power God has given him. 4:27 offers the king this advice: '...atone for your sins with righteousness, and your iniquities with mercy to the oppressed...' It's clear from this text and the ensuing judgment that God expected this non-Israelite king to practice social righteousness and justice. The fact that God held him accountable for not practicing social justice and righteousness shows that the king could and should do it. Outsiders can and should practice a 'justice' and 'righteousness' which receives approval from God. (Outsiders were able to recognize and approve of the good life lived by the Christians Peter addressed in 1 Peter 3:2 and see Matthew 5.16.)
Ezekiel reflecting back on the conditions that led to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah insists that part of the reason for their fall was 'she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but they did not aid the poor and needy...' (16:49-50). In Genesis 18 the cry that was rising heavenward from Sodom and Gomorrah was the cries of the oppressed poor and needy. Here again we see that these governments were held accountable by God for not providing creation goods to those over whom God gave them authority and power.
It's not only permissible but given the opportunity, it may well be the obligation of Christians to assist governments to provide creation goods for the poor and needy and the voiceless. (Not every way of doing this is wise and some ways of doing it would be a violation of the Christian's conscience and those issues would need to be worked with.)
The People of God do and value many of the same things that outsiders do and value. The reasons for doing and valuing these things are sometimes shared. This is partly explained because God's love and truth has been spread abroad throughout the earth from the beginning through prophets and priests, parents and families. And where this love and truth is not suppressed in unrighteousness we see its influence on outsiders (see texts such as Romans 2:14-15; Acts 14:15-17).
Despite sharing many truths in common and having been shaped by many expressions of God's love along with those of the Abrahamic community, this is still a world in need of redemption through reconciliation with God. This is part of the reason for saying that the 'People of God' are peculiar and have peculiar reasons for the kind of life they live. These people of God have a peculiar history which includes special contact with God in both event and instruction. Their life then reflects a special ordering which no outsider can embrace or claim as his/hers. This life as the People of God rises out of God's purposes and creation; it rises out of some destiny-shaping experiences with God. This life is not simply about the kind of things the People of God do, it's about what has happened to them and what they have become as a consequence of what has happened to them.
But what does it matter why people do 'good' things? Surely the only thing that matters is that people aren't mistreated, that the good things of life are shared and that oppression and injustice are eradicated as far as that is possible? It matters to God! And as a consequence it matters to his People. To achieve his ultimate purpose (life in fellowship with him for humans) God will tolerate less than his enthronement in human hearts, but he cannot desire less or work toward less than that. (God will certainly tolerate an anti-God government's provision of his creation goods to the needyhe uses his enemies to fulfill his good will. And he will not only hold them responsible for their rejection of him, he will also hold them responsible for not providing for the needy if that's the case.)
This is why the righteousness of the People of God is immediately and inextricably linked with their theology and their Lord. Others may claim a 'rational' or 'natural' ethic, the People of God can't. Others may see themselves as self-providers of justice and righteousness, the People of God can't. Where God is dismissed as irrelevant to ethics or human societal blessing, Genesis 11 is back with a vengeance. But the 'Elect People' exist (in part) because Genesis 11 is intolerable. If Genesis 11 or the Ur from which Abraham was isolated were adequate or acceptable, the Abrahamic community would not have been created!
While they share a host of things in common with other humans because they share humanity, the People of God exist not because they have a common humanity, but because they have been called 'out of' the rest of humanity to bear witness to humanity about truth and realities from which humanity in general is in full flight. This is why the People of God practice peculiar ordinances; ordinances that mean nothing to those outside the Community; ordinances that retell and keep in memory the peculiar experiences they have had with God and ordinances that proclaim the coming full accomplishment of God's over-arching purpose for humanity.
The 'elect community' sees these kingdoms of the world from a number of perspectives. They see them:
As 'fallen structures' which exist in a state of rebellion against God and therefore not the kingdom of God;
As states that exist because of the will of men and which arise out of the chaos and conflict of nations;
As kingdoms which arise due to God's control of the nations' personal agendas;
As 'God's servant to do you good';
As states that are answerable to God not only for their rebellion against him as 'alien powers' but for the abuse of power in the specific areas mentioned above,that is, they are capable of practicing a social justice and righteousness which has God's (limited) approval
As powers to be resisted in appropriate circumstances;
As powers to be aided and supported when they act as God's instruments to provide creation blessings for the people.
It's clear from a study of the Bible that human governments are seen in various lights depending on the circumstances prevailing. The notion that we can go to any one text (or set of texts) for an exhaustive treatment of governments and how Christians should respond to them is a mistake. New sets of circumstances will require the biblically-shaped believers to work out new responses to existing governments.
©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.
Many thanks to brother Ed Healy, for allowing me to post from his website, theabidingword.com.