We see so much of them these COVID-19 days. They pop up in every news bulletin, and on many social media feeds, telling us what we can’t do and urging us to ‘flatten the curve.’ Our Prime Minister and our Chief Medical Officer; our Premier and local Health Ministers are working very hard, it seems. I have become much more aware of the intrusions of government into my life than ever before. And at their word I have stayed inside almost all of almost every day for 5 weeks. I no longer go to work, I stay to work. I have locked the front door to visitors and steadfastly resisted the urge to hug a stranger. And I have put God’s command to not neglect to meet together (Hebrews 10:24-25) on the backburner for the foreseeable future. And I am one of the compliant Aussies who have downloaded the App.
I have become much more aware of the intrusions of government into my life … I have stayed inside almost all of almost every day for 5 weeks. I no longer go to work, I stay to work. I have locked the front door to visitors and steadfastly resisted the urge to hug a stranger.
But the intrusion of governments into our lives hasn’t been without its detractors. Some civil rights defenders have urged us to resist. Many others have simply ignored the rules, descending on Bondi Beach or the local Bunnings, calling sunbathing essential exercise and garden pots essential supplies. Australia has a long and proud history of snubbing government control, of shaking the fist at authority and sneering our political representatives.
But this COVID season has made me conscious that government is good. Not that every government is good, but having government is good. Paul urges the Christians in Rome to ‘submit themselves to the governing authorities’ (Romans 13:1). I guess that if you lived in Rome, the intrusion of the arm of the government was felt daily. And Paul’s reasoning? ‘… because there is no authority except that which God has established.’ Paul has in mind the whole machinery of government—from Caesar to the senate to soldiers and police and tax collectors and public servants and administrators. He is saying that both the structures of government and the actual people who occupy places in those structures are established and appointed by God. In submitting to them we are submitting to God. And God’s reason for establishing authorities? For our good (verse 4).
It seems Paul is of the firm opinion that even poor government is better than no government. Having no governing authority means anarchy; and if you have ever lived under anarchy, I reckon you would agree with Paul (and God). Having visited Liberia (West Africa—it suffered a 15 year civil war), and seen the effect of the breakdown of the rule of law, I would not wish it on my enemies. The rich barricade themselves behind high, razor-wire-topped walls with private armies, and the poor lose their land and their lives. Everyone lives in fear.
I am thankful to God for our government. I don’t agree with everything they do, but it is apparent in these times that they are governing. They are taking the threat of COVID-19 seriously, and enacting solutions. The alternative is too difficult to countenance. Can you imagine COVID gatecrashing Australia’s lackadaisical lifestyle without any authority structures to make decisions about how we would react? If we were all simply left to do ‘what was right in our own eyes’ we would be in deep trouble. Pandemics (and violence and corruption and much more) can only be tackled by an all-encompassing and planned strategy.
Having no governing authority means anarchy; and if you have ever lived under anarchy, I reckon you would agree … The rich barricade themselves behind high, razor-wire-topped walls with private armies, and the poor lose their land and their lives.
And I am thankful that Australians by-and-large have been compliant to the governing authorities’ directives. Our government officials can only do their jobs if the vast majority of us comply. If we decided on mass to rebel, and all descend on Bondi Beach, they couldn’t stop us—not with a few police officers. In the end they’d have to get the army out, with guns and artillery. And we’d descend into a police state. So submission to governing authorities is a necessary aspect of living together in communities and nations.
One thing that frightens me is that many of our secular neighbours have little reason to submit to governing authorities. There is only the thin line of the fear of punishment between us an anarchy. But we who know that God has gifted us with governments have every reason to submit, not only because of fear, but especially because we are conscious that God has established them. And one particular way we can express our submission is by paying our taxes happily (verse 6-7). God knows that our governments are going to need our taxes (Income, Capital Gains, GST etc) as we climb out of this hole together. As the end of the financial year approaches, many will offer us ways of paying less taxes. Let’s learn a lesson from Paul, and respond with a smiling, ‘But I love paying taxes—I get to build hospitals and schools and support the unemployed’. Our friends will think we are weird, but we will be honouring the God who appointed our governing authorities and loving our neighbours. Sounds good to me.