Here are some thoughts on how Christ-followers can experience inner peace even when living under unjust, ungodly, or even just unstable political powers. (Not that I’m thinking of any particular nation’s political situation at the moment.) 🙂
Jesus embedded something in his earliest disciples that we need to recapture today – a desire to work for justice and compassion that coincided beautifully with a sense of peace and calm even when things didn’t seem to be going the way they hoped. Their missionary work, compassion ministry, and inclusion of the marginalized was never born out of panic or outrage or any sense of desperation, but out of a heart that was filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). The earliest Christ-followers loved their neighbours and their enemies, and everything they did was born out of this all-embracing unconditional love.
Moving toward this inner peace under power always begins by remembering WHO we are and WHOSE we are.
We are CHRIST-IAN more than we are CANAD-IAN.
If Jesus is our Lord, our King, then we are his (and no one else’s)…
- CITIZENS (Ephesians 2:19; Philippians 3:20; 1 Peter 2:9)
- SOLDIERS (Luke 22:36-38; John 18:36; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5; Ephesians 6:10-18; 2 Timothy 2:3-4)
- AMBASSADORS (2 Corinthians 5:20; Ephesians 6:20)
The apostle Peter calls Christians “exiles” and “foreigners” in our own countries (1 Peter 2:9-11). We are diaspora. We are fully here, fully present, but we are not fully home. And while we are here, we have a job to do:
Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.~ God (Jeremiah 29:7)
From God’s perspective, we are not citizens of Canada (or whatever country we find ourselves living in), but we are ambassadors to that country on behalf of the kingdom of Christ.
Let’s look at some of the earliest Christian writings on this topic of finding peace under power, including a political power that we question. First, notice Jesus’ peaceful trust in God when arrested and questioned by the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate:
“Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.”(John 19:10-11)
Pilate was a terrible leader, but Jesus had complete calm that Pilate would have no power if God was not able and active in this situation, using even Pilate’s poor leadership to accomplish something far greater.
This very Jesusy way of looking at the world has a name in Christian theology: Providence. God is providentially at work through all of history – the good, the bad, and the ugly. This never led the early church to passivity, but to peace, believing God would partner with our loving lives to bring about even better things.
This example of Jesus before Pilate, along with Jesus’ teachings, led his followers to become remarkably brave and bold, knowing God was working even through corrupt, violent, pagan political systems. When the apostle Paul is preaching to the Greeks, he says:
“From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.”~ The apostle Paul (Acts 17:26-27)
This is amazing. In our fallen world, the history of nations is fraught with war, oppression, and slavery, and yet Paul says God has been working for our benefit at all times through the rise and fall of nations. This doesn’t mean that God causes the human sin behind war, oppression, and slavery (we are completely responsible and accountable for our human failures), but it does mean that God is at work, even through the terrible things humans do, to bring about more light and love in some way. Jesus calls all people to denounce and step away from those horrors of human history that denigrate and deface the image of God in humanity, while at the same time promising us that not one drop of human history will go to waste. God is always at work through political history to maximize human opportunity to hear his good news message and reach out for the God who is always close at hand. This is mind-blowingly beautiful.
So the apostle Paul can say with confident peace that God is at work through even corrupt governments like Nero’s Rome, when he writes:
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.~ The apostle Paul (Romans 13:1-2)
Of course our minds can race to all of the apparent exceptions to the rule, where poor governments lead their citizenry, not toward the experience of God’s justice, but toward the apparent lack of it. This was certainly the case for Paul’s experience at the time of writing the above passage. Yet, Paul knew that the alternative to earthly government, even bad government, would be absolute anarchy, the law of the jungle. In that kind of world it would be even harder for people to experience, expand, and extend the kingdom of Christ. And experiencing, expanding, and extending the kingdom of Christ was the most important thing for the early disciples of Jesus. So God gives us government to bring about a measure of peace. The goal for Christ-followers is never to simply get secular governments to act more Christian (though it may include this), but to be agents and ambassadors on behalf of Christ’s kingdom in any way we can, given the current state of governmental affairs, whatever they may be.
The call of Christ is a radical refocusing of our priorities.
Lastly, the apostle Paul invites us to keep our eyes open to God’s providence and be ready to partner with it when he writes:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.~ The apostle Paul (Romans 8:28)
In ALL things God is at work for our good. And more than that, God wants to work with us to bring about that good. The verb “works” in this verse translates the Greek word sunergeo, which means to work together in cooperative partnership. A more literal translation of this verse would read:
And we know that in all things God works together with us for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.~ The apostle Paul (Romans 8:28, Literal translation)
Two things are true:
- Christians can always be at peace, looking for God at work in everything to draw out some good.
- Christians can also look for ways to partner with what God is doing, to be actively involved in birthing goodness into this world.
Citizens, soldiers, and ambassadors of the Jesus Nation are invited by God to be active agents of goodness. And we can do this work out of love and gratitude, rather than out of fear or desperation.
REST IN PEACE!
PS: For more on this, order The End of Religion, on sale now wherever you buy books!