As a kid I loved to watch The Adventures of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn. Ok, let’s be honest, I still love that movie. But as a kid I remember having a moral qualm–that was quickly quelled by swashbuckling swordfights–about robbing the rich to feed the poor. When I watch it now I still have to run through the moral justification in my head. Robin steals from the rich to feed the poor, the poor from whom the rich stole the money in the first place. So really, he wasn’t so much stealing as he was illegally returning the money to its rightful owners…occasionally by killing them.
The real struggle here is not the morality of the governors and Prince John over taxing the people. That is obviously wrong. It is obviously wrong for taxation to be used for the gain of power and the abuse of any citizen–so there isn’t a huge dilemma there. Where there is a dilemma is how Christians are to respond to such a problem. Now, I am not attempting to dive too deeply into politics, I am writing for Christians who must maintain their modis operandi independently of what government they live under. After all, Romans 13 clearly states:
“Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God. So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have its approval. For government is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For government is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong. Therefore, you must submit, not only because of wrath, but also because of your conscience. And for this reason you pay taxes, since the authorities are God’s public servants, continually attending to these tasks. Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor.”
Now someone might respond, “but this is talking about good government, our government isn’t a ‘servant for good’!” But consider that Paul is writing this to Christians in Rome. If you need a history lesson on Rome and Christianity in the first century here’s a two paragraph rundown. This is the government Paul is referring to.
What Christians have a tendency to envy is the power and money of the rich and the government. We want to the power to help people and make things right. We want the power to bring about social justice. We want the power to end violence, to crush sin, to bring the Kingdom of God. But over and over again, particularly in the gospel of Matthew, we are shown that we are missing the point. Jesus tries to explain this to the Pharisees in Matthew 22:
“Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to trap Him by what He said. They sent their disciples to Him, with the Herodians. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we know that You are truthful and teach truthfully the way of God. You defer to no one, for You don’t show partiality. Tell us, therefore, what You think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’
But perceiving their malice, Jesus said, ‘Why are you testing Me, hypocrites? Show Me the coin used for the tax.’ So they brought Him a denarius. ‘Whose image and inscription is this?’ He asked them.
‘Caesar’s,’ they said to Him.
Then He said to them, “Therefore give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left Him and went away.”
And to us in Matthew 7, at the end of His most in depth explanation of the Kingdom, He says:
“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on the rock. The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of Mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, the rivers rose, the winds blew and pounded that house, and it collapsed. And its collapse was great!”
The point I am making is that in this day and age we envy the power of the government, and we look to it with almost salvific expectancy, but the reality of the situation is that putting any faith in any government, or envying the power of any man or government, is to deny that we serve the God over all men and all governments. This is why as Christians we are told to care for the poor, the widows and orphans, to seek justice. God is talking about the Church, His bride, making things right through the power was have in Him. The goal is not to have a government that aligns with God’s plan, because God’s plan exists outside any government, or any nation, or any age of man.
Graeme Goldsworthy rightly defines the Kingdom as “God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule.” This is what the world will always hate about Christianity–our hearts can never truly belong in any place, our allegiance can never to be given to any idea of group, because they belong solely to God and to His purposes. So we pay taxes not to show allegiance, but because we don’t need the world’s currency to make us happy. We don’t fret over the next election (though that doesn’t mean we don’t vote), because the man or woman elected will never truly have authority over our hearts, souls, minds, or bodies–even our bodies will be raised!
As Christians, individually and as a group, we have had a history of envying the earthly power of government. But when we give into that envy we give up so much more than we could ever gain through a man-made, temporal kingdom. Let us pray that all of us, myself included, will build our hopes on the Rock of Christ and not on the sands of men.