The Law is the Law, or is it? – Romans 13 and the Refugee Crisis (Part 5 of 5ish)

romans 13

“You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!” Jesus

I’ve been saying from the beginning of this series that Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other politicians, pundits, and preachers were mistaken when they used Romans 13:1-7 to justify the administration’s policy to separate parents from children at the border and jail them as lawbreakers. Though I believe Sessions did the Word of God and the God of the Word a great injustice, I give him the benefit of the doubt that he believes his interpretation is a correct one. I’m not questioning his sincerity or his Christianity. His, I choose to believe, was an honest mistake, but a mistake nonetheless.

We’ve been studying the passage from a lexical and a contextual perspective. Now let’s look at it from a theological vantage point.

“Theology” is simply the “study of God.” We who want to be like God first have to know what he’s like. Moses tells us what he’s like: “The LORD your God … is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing. (Deuteronomy 10:17-18) If we want to be like him, a good place to begin might be to care about the things he cares about.

In this post and the following I’ll address a number of theological questions related to U.S. immigration policies and respond with some opinions of mine.

Does God determine who becomes President?

In the first verse of Romans 13 Paul did say, “The authorities that exist have been established by God.” I addressed this in the second post of this series, but suffice to say here, according to the Greek term used, it seems unlikely that Paul was saying that God ordains every governing authority. Yes, he ordains “government” as an entity, but doesn’t necessarily insert his choice into every vacant governmental seat.

I’ve heard some people go so far as to say that God put Mr. Trump in the Oval Office, others soften it by claiming that he “allowed” it and therefore still endorses him on some level. They reason then to push against his policies and criticize his person is to go against God. I never heard the same thing regarding Obama or Clinton, at least from my more conservative leaning friends. It seems some people’s theology is more party-motivated than Spirit-inspired, that their sociopolitical frame speaks louder than the voice of Scripture. They have “a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe their own traditions” and party-line.

I guess you could say that, since God created the world, in one sense he’s “allowed” every genocide, every death by plague, every child that has been sexually molested, and every baby that dies of malnutrition. So, that he “allowed” these things certainly can’t mean he approves of them. Because God “allows” something doesn’t mean he has no desire to change it or no intention to include us in the change.

Yes, Daniel says that God “deposes and raises up kings,” which is not to say that he does this in every case. That he is “sovereign over kingdoms and gives them to anyone he wants to” doesn’t mean he always does. God doesn’t always do what God can do. He reserves the prerogative to wield his sovereignty sovereignly.

Does God always get what he wants?

The short answer is: No, at least not in the short run. Eventually his ship will get to the shore at which he pointed it, but in the meantime, there’s all kinds of mystery between here and there, about which we haven’t the wisdom or knowledge to decipher. Who has the audacity to tell the Jews that Hitler was God’s choice for Germany or the North Koreans that Kim Jong Un is the man he chose to lead their nation? Was Stalin God’s man for Russia or Pol Pot for Cambodia?

God is sovereign. And it is his sovereign prerogative to choose when and where he will intervene miraculously, act behind the scenes, or pick up the pieces after the fact. He “works in all things together for the good of those who love him…” but that doesn’t mean he plans everything ahead of time, including who sits in the White House.

Some people equate God’s choice to install certain kings of Israel with putting Donald Trump in office. In my view this isn’t just bad theology, it’s bad logic. The disparity between the way God nurtured Israel to the place of giving birth to the Messiah and how he views America as a nation couldn’t be greater. God’s plan for the Jews to ultimately give us Jesus is a pretty unique situation I’d say! I see no straight line between his plan for pre-Jesus Israel and for America. We’re just not that “exceptional.” It’s not that he loves Americans less than the Jews, but that he had a purpose for the Jewish nation that he doesn’t have for America or any other state since.

Can God work through––mostly in spite of––a person like Mr. Trump? Sure. That’s why we pray. I can’t say that God chose him, installed him, or necessarily willed him to fill the Oval Office, but I can say that he “works in all things for the good of those who love him,” and I’m trusting him to do just that.

I don’t believe that the voice of the people necessarily represents the voice of God, i.e., that he controls the outcome of our democratic elections. There are enough examples in American history and the history of the world that show that sometimes, a lot of times, the people get it wrong.

In the immigration debate we often hear the phrase “the rule of law,” which at face value has value, unless a particular law being referred to has no value, i.e., is an unjust law. From the Birmingham jail Martin Luther King Jr. wrote an indictment of those who were “more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.”

“Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.”

As people of faith, we hold that we have not only the right but also the duty to struggle against laws that we deem unjust, whether the Jim Crow laws of 50 years ago or the “Juan Crow” laws of today.

According to some people’s logic, because something is “legal” it must also be “moral” and therefore ordained by God. We’ve seen how this same lopsided reasoning was used to justify slavery as moral and ordained by God simply because it was legal. I’m not against laws, just bad laws!

While we may be limited in our ability to discern the difference, we do have a standard, the character of the God of justice who routinely mediates for the vulnerable and punishes the unjust. “Woe to those who make unjust laws,” says Isaiah, “to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. What will you do on the day of reckoning…?”


Read also:Inadequate Samaritans


Yes, those who sneak over the border have broken the laws of the United States. But, by exploiting them, aren’t we breaking the higher laws of God?


Yes, there will be a Part 6. How can there be such a thing as “Part 6 of 5ish”? I can only explain it as the mystery of the “ish.” Talk at you next weekish.

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