Thomas Jefferson, along with some others of the Founders, is credited with saying, “Resistance to Tyrants is obedience to God.” (It may have been an oft-repeated motto, much like our modern “They can have my gun when they pry it from my cold, dead hands.”)
Jefferson’s statement is Biblically correct. I’ve expended a lot of time and effort to prove that, as have others before me. I want to approach it from a different angle today.
Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God. That’s true as stated, but it is also true in its opposite, parallel form, like this:
Submission to tyrants is rebellion to God.
It’s not rocket science, as they say, but there is enough bad teaching out there that we really do need to say it plainly. If resistance is obedience, then submission is wicked. In fact, I propose this: To submit to a tyrant as if he is a lawful ruler is anti-Christian.
Historically speaking, there is no honorable precedent among the great, Christian heroes for failing to oppose a tyrant. And, at a fundamental level, to cower before a tyrant is to violate the consistent Biblical model, from cover to cover, from Genesis to the maps. Today, I want to show you that failure to resist tyranny represents a galling lack of Christian love. Submission to tyrants is un-Christlike, precisely because it is unloving.
How so? Well, the Bible tells us that we are supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31, for instance.) It also gives us the duty of coming to the defense of those who are unjustly oppressed (as in Isaiah 1:17.) So, if a government in rebellion toward God is oppressing your neighbors, and you refuse to stand up for them or to oppose that tyranny in any way, does that sound like obedience or disobedience to you?
Go ahead. You can say it out loud. We all know the answer anyway.
Deitrich Bonhoeffer, the WW2 era preacher and martyr, who did, in fact, seal his testimony with his own blood, put it succinctly in a few famous lines. He wrote:
Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.
Bonhoeffer’s colleague was a pastor named Neimoller, who had a rather more passive, let’s-all-get-along view toward their particular tyrant. He wound up paying for it. He penned the famous lines:
When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn’t a Jew.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.
Some in our day would tell us that texts like Romans 13:1-7 teach us that we should obey as far as we can, and only resist when the government commands us to sin. Let’s be clear: That is a fair statement of our duties toward lawful government. But when we use that as a thumb-rule for action in the face of tyranny, it becomes the cloak of cowardice. It becomes Neimoller’s failed strategy of silence. A modern patriot, for whom I have a great fondness, admittedly, put it this way:
There is something conveniently self-centered about this proposed strategy. “Wait to resist until I personally am ordered to sin.” While you wait for the moment the government tells you to renounce Christ, your neighbors and fellow citizens are being trampled by the unrestrained, unjust use of power.
Today, as I write this, I read the report of a farmer who began serving a 30 day jail sentence for the crime of collecting rainwater that had fallen on his own land. And something close to 3,000 babies will be dismembered in the womb or burned to death in a salt solution today, with the government’s sanction and the assistance of taxpayer money. As the Scripture says, “Like a roaring lion or a charging bear is a wicked ruler over a poor people.” (Proverbs 28:15) But, hey, as long as you personally haven’t yet been commanded to blaspheme God, I guess we can all breathe easy.
As William Wilberforce said, “A private faith that does not act in the face of oppression is no faith at all.”
In another place, the Bible says this: “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8)
We rightly see that as having something to do with monetarily providing for our family. Surely, it does include that. But what about providing other basic necessities of life, besides food and shelter, for what the founding fathers called “our posterity?” Specifically, what about the necessity of liberty? I know that sounds corny in our day, because nobody cherishes their freedom like the founders did.
Christian men in America routinely plop onto their couches in front of horrible programming on television, or worse, with a video game console, and ignore the steady encroachment of tyranny in their land. As long as they personally are comfortable, and can play their stupid, emasculating first-person shooters for hours on end, well, life is good and what else could matter? And their vile laziness and quest for personal peace winds up passing on to their own children a world in which the flame of freedom grows inexorably colder. How is that providing for your household? Somebody tell me.
How can that be loving? How can it be Christian? It can’t be. It’s time we remembered that courage is a Christian virtue, just as surely as piety is; and, conversely, that the Bible condemns cowards to be exiled from God’s city. (Revelation 21:7-9)