Righteous Terror and Righteous Fear
The news last week from Orlando was devastating. Then, the debate that followed quickly became divisive. But after further reflection, I believe there is more common ground to be found between the many competing political viewpoints. And this possible common ground has everything to do with the biblical perspective of governmental responsibility.
The Apostle Paul writes these words in his inspired letter to christians living in first century Rome:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (Romans 13:1-7)
There are several basic takeaways from this text. First, governing authorities have power that is delegated to them from God. This doesn’t mean that all government actions are godly. History proves otherwise. But it does mean that government has a divine purpose along with a delegated mandate. Second, the primary purpose of government is to punish those who do wrong and protect those who do right. Third, terror, when correctly used by official authorities, is an appropriate tool in governing.
Consider for a minute how inside-out and upside-down that last point seems in our world today. We live in age where those who revolt against government and harm those who do right traffic in terror. Sadly, it is the law abiding and peaceful citizens who are living in fear. This is an unrighteous form of terror and an unjust type of fear. Yet the bible points to a paradigm of righteous terror and righteous fear. How would that look today? Here are a few possible modern examples.
The immigrant who has illegally entered the United States should live with a sincere fear of government retribution. But the punitive response must fit the crime. And there should be no fear of vigilante justice. Conversely, the citizen who hires and/or exploits the undocumented worker for the sake of greed should be fearful too of appropriate punishment.
The young man who is law abiding should be completely free of fear from police action as he goes about his everyday life. But, if that same man violates the law of the land, he should have a righteous fear of just consequences. The policeman who abuses his authority should also live in the fear of retribution. The officer who serves and protects well should be well respected.
Now, back to Orlando. The lawful citizens clubbing early Sunday morning should have been spared from terror. But they weren’t. Their demented murderer should have been the terrorized rather than the terrorist. But he wasn’t. And that is unjust. On that point we all can agree regardless of our ideology, party affiliation and religion. Which happens to be very good news for bible believing Christians as it is the perspective that Scripture promotes. And it affords us the opportunity to enter into the public forum to talk about the just God of the bible who makes His righteousness both known and available through the cross of Jesus.