Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.
Interesting that this passage falls on Martin Luther King day here in the US. Reading it in that context is challenging for me today. “There is no authority except from God and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.” Um…what about unjust governments that actively go against not just God’s ways but simple human decency? What about governments that slaughter innocents in the name of “racial purity” or for religious reasons? What about governments that continue to oppress specific groups of people in favor of others? I could keep going, but you get the idea. Are all of those authorities “God-ordained”? Would King have said that the authorities that were oppressing people in the name of Jim Crow laws, segregation, voting obstacles, and so forth were ordained by God?
I really struggle with these words from Paul in Romans today as we read it in light of what we witness around us in the world today. After all, our country would not exist without people who actively resisted the authority that was over them.
For me, I take this passage as a call for us to work towards governments that are just and focus on seeking the common good. I do not advocate a theocracy by any means, but I do believe that we need to work towards a way that the authorities in our world can exemplify the best of humanity for the common good. If that means resistance at times, it means resistance, but in the spirit of who (King and many many others) and what (justice for all, not just for some) this day represents.