I read the article that you forwarded to me, “Step Up For Your country,” by General McChrystal. I am pleased that you are experiencing a desire to serve. I want to offer you a different perspective. As a Christian person, how do you pursue this desire to serve? Please listen. See what you think.
I noticed that McChrystal’s article is littered with numerous keywords (“service,” 30 times, “responsibility” 13, “obligation,” 4, relentless “we,” language–more than 30 times throughout). Sacrifice appears repeatedly, too. It sounds noble!
But why serve the nation-state? Do you really have responsibility and obligation to serve it? Is the nation-state you and your neighbors, friends, and relatives? And, from a Christian standpoint, is this biblical?
Let’s start by getting one thing clear: you are to serve God. He is your King. You have chosen fealty to Him. Your choice was voluntary. The second thing, is that you cannot serve two masters without corrupting your character. It just does not work. You may be able to serve one master with undivided loyalty and then interact thoughtfully with other agents, but you cannot successfully serve two masters.
Thirdly, it needs to be remembered that the nation-state is not God’s agent. It is not neutral toward God. It stands in direct opposition to Him.
When, in the time of Jesus and the apostles they were persecuted by the nation-state and then released, the prayer went up after:
“Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’ for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel” (Acts 4:24-27).
This arrangement of “church and state” was foretold in Psalm two. Human rulers set themselves up as kings and oppose their Maker. God says He will destroy them and their kingdoms–completely.
”As you looked, a stone was cut out by no human hand, and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. . . And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever, just as you saw that a stone was cut from a mountain by no human hand, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold” (Daniel 2:34, 35, 44, 45a).
If These kings/kingdoms/nation-states are actually in rebellion against God, and willfully resist Him, and if He foretells His destruction of them so that no trace of them will remain, and so that the place they occupied is filled with a kingdom encompassing the whole earth–then it is clear that these kingdoms do not represent God. They actually represent rebellion against Him.
But Jesus said to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God. It sounds like there is a space there for Caesar, that something dos, in fact, belong to Caesar. And yet, biblically, in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. He made them and all that is in them (Exodus 20:11). He is the rightful owner of all creation (Psalm 50:11). We can give to Him only that which is already His own, which He has permitted us to borrow (“for all things come from you, and of your own have we given you,” 1 Chronicles 29:14).
Caesar’s kingdom is temporary, and God has scheduled it for destruction. In the time of Ceasar, coins bore the image of the emperor’s likeness; the money was truly considered to be his money. Jesus is only saying, “Go ahead; give him back what is his.”
But, back to the question about the nations: they stand in opposition to God. This is true all the way back. In 1 Samuel 8-12, God warns the Hebrews pointedly how choosing a human king comes with all manor of negatives. He even declares that in doing so, they have rejected Him (God) from being king over them. Very strong stuff, eh? And the testimony of Scripture stays on the same line all the way through the Bible. Looking through God’s Word, passage by passage, text by text, the story is clear: God has nothing good to say about human government. The Bible as a whole is decidedly anti-state.
That said, there is one passage consistently quoted by those who make the Bible justify the nation-state: Romans 13:1-7. Much is claimed for this passage, and doubtless, those who advocate “national service,” if they are Christians, would point to this text for justification of their program. What can we say about it?
First, we look at the whole testimony of Scripture, and as already pointed out, it is recognizably anti-state. Thus, one or two verses that don’t seem to fit, we should anticipate, read with care and researched with caution, should find a harmony with everything else in the Bible.
Second, these seven verses do not stand alone; they are part of a longer section, stretching from 12:1 to 13:14. The thrust of the larger message of these two chapters is, do not be conformed to the world, but be changed and exhibit Christian behavior. The believer is to serve God (Romans 12:11). He is to abhor that which is evil wherever it is found, and endorse the good wherever it is found. More than endorsing good, he is to overcome evil.
The message of 13:1-7 is far from an endorsement of all that a nation-state does, or call to serve it, or to make oneself its agent. We are to serve God first. As far as the nation-state goes, we are to be in subjection to it as far as we can do so ethically. This does not mean unqualified cooperation.
Paul argues that God has ordered the world this way. He has permitted these entities to exist, just as He permits thieves, sexual immorality, and drug lords to exist. But what is permitted is not endorsed, for He has made clear His law: no killing, no stealing, no adultery are permissable. But the nation-state in our day endorses all of these, encouraging poor health practices, licensing sexual immorality (endorsing immoral “marriages” of those who “divorce” their spouse without biblical grounds and who “remarry” (commiting adultery, violating the covenant with the original wife), and taking means and imposing fees by force.
The believer is not called to resist the order that God has permitted, nor is he instructed to cooperate with it. He is to be subject to it. This falls far short of unequivicol endorsement. The rulers are appointed by God to do His will, through them he sometimes takes down or raises up other nation-states. Particularly, they serve as instruments of wrath against those whom God chooses to judge.
But, very often, their behavior goes too far. Was it really God’s will for the nation of Israel to kill Isaiah the prophet? And for Rome to kill Jesus and Paul also–all of whom functioned in direct service to God? The leaders of a nation often bring collateral benefit to the believer, even if it is mostly incidental and unintended on their part.
We are subject to them because it is not God’s purpose for us that we invest our energies in attacking them. He sets up and removes kings, and vengeance is His, not ours. He will deal with them in His time and His way. Our part is to pray for divine intervention so that we may live quiet and peaceful, non-violent lives with as little interaction with the national machinery as possible. Our part is to do good quietly and stay out of their way. We should give Caesar the respect that he requires, but not to the point of crossing over into serving him. We have exacly one Master, God. The human nation is godless and temporary.
Love does no wrong to others. It serves neither self, nor Caesar. We are called to cast off the works of darkness and to live upright lives, and to seek out no excuses for satisfying our baser inclinations.
How odd it would be for Paul to begin his argument by asking us not to conform to the world (and by extension, the nations of the present order), and yet, to turn around and suddenly call us to conform to them! On the contrary, John the Baptist told soldiers to refuse to commit acts of violence, and God time and again breaks His followers out of prisons and intended executions–against the express wishes of the authorities, religious and national.
But what about these assertions that we have responsibilities, obligations, owe service and even sacrifice to the nation? It is always interesting to go back, and look again at the Ten Commandments and see which things God says actually are transcendant. What do we find there?
As far as obligation and responsibility goes, the story looks like this.
First Commandment: Our primary obligation is to God; all other obligations are secondary.
Second Commandment: We must worship God and avoid the worship of all idols and secondary commitments.
Third Commandment: God says that we may not empty the worship of God of meaning.
Fourth Commandment: God has made a day of worship for us to spend with Him; we must keep it. We must not cause others to work on this day.
Fifth commandment: God says that we have an obligation to our immediate family.
Sixth Commandment: God says that we have a commitment to our fellow men not to kill them.
Seventh Commandment: God says that we have a definite commitment to our spouse and to other married couples.
Eighth Commandment: God says that we have an obligation to respect the property rights of others.
Ninth Commandment: God says that we have an obligation to deal with other people truthfully and to guard their reputations.
Tenth Commandment: God says that we are not to desire the spouses or possessions of others.
And so, a look at the Ten Commandments reveals three circles of commitments:
(1) To God first.
(2) To our spouse and other couples, and to our immediate familiy.
(3) To our fellow man, in not killing him, telling untruths about him, stealing from him, or causing him to work on Sabbath.
Commitment to national units is nowhere to be found: not in the Ten Commandments; not in the teachings of Jesus; not in the teachings of Paul, or anywhere else in the New Testament.
Very simply, these are good values (responsibility, fulfilling true obligations, service). But anyone asking that you engage in them on behalf of their favorite nation-state, or any nation-state, is pressing upon you obligations not found in the Word of God.
Consider my words, my son, and avoid lying Generals.