What Should We Think About Politics and Government?
We are beset by unsolvable problems. Selfishness and death rank at the top, turning human history, especially political history, into mere wanderings. A cynic might describe government like this:
Flawed people ruling a flawed populace in a flawed place.
One ego telling another ego how to live.
Washing a mud floor.
The mother of two brothers, both Isa's disciples, came to him with a request. Her sons probably sent her. She asked that in heaven they be made highest in command, second only to Isa. The other ten disciples became upset. Isa went on to tell them all this:
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:25-28, NIV)
Despite its many weaknesses, human government tends to be the lesser of two evils. Anarchy and chaos are usually worse. During the life of Isa, and for many generations after, Rome ruled a large part of the ancient world. It was brutal to those who defied it, but Rome also brought a sense of order under which many people lived relatively stable lives. Here is part of Allah's command through Isa's emissary Paul to believers:
Everyone should submit to governing authorities, for all authority derives from Allah, and those which exist have been appointed by him. … A ruler is Allah's servant designed for your good. If you do wrong, you should be afraid. For that very reason, as Allah's servant, he bears the sword to execute punishment on those who do wrong. (Romans 13:1, 4)
Allah's command through Isa's emissary Peter is similar:
For the Lord's sake submit to every human authority. That may be a ruling king or governors sent by him, those who punish wrongdoers but honor people who do right. For when foolish people make baseless accusations against you, doing what's right is the way Allah wants you to silence them. Though you are free, you are Allah's servants. So don't use your freedom as a cloak for evil. Honor everyone, love fellow believers, fear Allah, and honor the king. (1 Peter 2:13-17)
Of course, when rulers require us to do evil, we cannot obey them, and we may have to bear the consequences. An ancient Babylonian king required that all his people worship a gold idol. Three Hebrews politely refused and were thrown into a huge fire. But Allah protected them and they survived (Daniyal/Daniel 3). Likewise, some followers of Isa would not worship the Roman ruler. They were sentenced to death and killed by beheading, fire or wild animals. History tells us that Isa's emissary Peter was crucified for his faith. Emissary Paul, being a Hebrew with Roman citizenship, was probably beheaded. He accepted his pending fate because, as he put it, “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20, NET).
Some religious leaders tried to trick Isa into creating trouble for himself. Should he compromise his beliefs by paying taxes to a pagan Roman government, or should he compromise his life by breaking Roman law? Isa would have none of such sophistry. He answered this way:
“You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar's,” they replied. Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's.” (Matthew 22:18-21, NIV)
Much could be said about our relationship with government, and each of us should carefully consider our own situation and circumstances. But after that, we should remember the great people of faith who've gone before us. The sufferings they endured, often at the hands of unjust rulers, taught them a great truth:
All those people died strong in faith. They hadn't received Allah's promises, but as if seeing them from afar, they greeted them and admitted that on earth they were but migrants and exiles. People who say such things reveal their desire for a homeland. Now, if they were thinking of a place they had left, they could have simply returned to it. But they longed for something better—heaven itself. Therefore Allah is not ashamed to be known as their God, and for them he's prepared a city. (Hebrews 11:13-16)