What would life be like in a world without government? Some might say, “It would be great to be free of taxes, government regulations, etc.” In some countries, citizens long for freedom from cruel dictators. But others might point out that without government, we would not enjoy the freedoms we do have. We would be left to fend for ourselves against crime and injustice.
We get a glimpse of what life might be like without government in the pre-Flood world. The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth and The earth was filled with violence (Genesis 6:5,11). We can picture a world full of Cains slaying their brothers, and Lamechs boasting of revenge seventy times that of Cain, with no one to avenge innocent blood (Genesis 4:8–10, 23–24). The Flood was not to cure the world of sin, but God did demonstrate His justice as Ruler over all. After the Flood, God told Noah: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His own image” (Genesis 9:6). Thus, God provided for protection of innocent life through a system of government law and order.
God’s timeless institution is repeated in the New Testament. St. Paul wrote: There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God (Romans 13:1). God appoints each governing authority with the intention that it should be “God’s servant for your good” (Romans 13:4)—promoting order, peace, and life. In a sinful world, government remains necessary to curb outward evil, at least to some extent, for the protection of life. To this end, the one in authority “does not bear the sword in vain” (Romans 13:4)—referring to government’s God-given duty to protect the innocent, by administrating justice to evildoers as well as fighting in just wars.
God instituted government for our good, but it often happens that authorities in office sin against their God-given vocation. Rulers do not always promote the good and punish the bad. Human laws do not always agree with God’s higher moral law—for example, protecting God-given life in the womb and marriage between one man and one woman. Sometimes government persecutes the Church. Yet, Christians are to be subject to governing authorities “for the sake of conscience” (Romans 13:1, 5; see 1 Peter 2:13–14), acknowledging God’s authority over all. If government happens to command disobedience against God’s will, St. Peter says, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
Scripture encourages us to pray for good government. When we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” as Luther’s Small Catechism explains, this includes “everything needed for this life, such as … faithful servants and rulers, good government … peace … order … and the like.” What good would all the daily bread and necessities of life do unless God also provided good government, peace, and order that allow us to enjoy them?
But above all, God’s Word teaches us to pray for government, not merely for earthly life and peace, but that His Gospel of eternal life and peace in Christ may be proclaimed freely. St. Paul brings these thoughts together as he urges our prayers “for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:2–4). We pray “Thy kingdom come” with the desire “that Your Word, as becomes it, may not be bound, but have free course and be preached to the joy and edifying of Christ’s holy people” (Collect for the Church, ELH, p. 86).
We can be thankful that God provides government to preserve earthly order, peace, and life, especially since Christ, our good King and loving Savior, rules with all authority over heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18). He let His innocent blood be shed on the cross to win our forgiveness and eternal life. He sent His gracious flood of Baptism to wash away our sins and claim us for His Kingdom. He who has provided for us eternal life and peace, now orders all things for the good of His Church (Matthew 28:18; Ephesians 1:20–23).
That is you and me!
Reverend Glenn Smith
Christ Lutheran Church
Klamath Falls, OR