Fear God Means Leave the Wrath to God
Dear Editor, Lancaster Sunday News,
How dare you lecture the Amish (and the rest of us) about what the Bible says about justice! Defending the status quo secular regime, you argue that the Amish have “to know from the Bible that its criminals must not be allowed to escape just punishment.” This conclusion assumes that there is only one way to read the Bible, and that this way is natural law with selective appeals to the Bible.
The Anabaptist tradition has not read the Bible your way, and the historical result has been patience to wait for God’s justice. Your impatience with Amish forgiveness sounds like you know what to do. You will do to criminals what God would do if God were still alive to do it!
But there is more to your argument: you are not really saying that God is out of business. You are claiming that God has made agents of the status quo regime. “The Bible does teach that Christians should submit to governors.” Of course you have no notion of appealing to Romans 13 when discussing the American rebellion against King George, or the regime changes in Iraq or Egypt. Your argument defines “submit to” in a way that would encourage collaboration and obedience to Hitler.
If your editorial board is going to start relying on the authority of the Bible (not for yourselves but for the Amish), then you need to begin with some exegesis. Romans 13 cannot be understood apart from its context. Romans 14 urges the overcoming of judgment among brothers and sisters. Romans 12:19 commands Christians not to avenge themselves but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, Vengeance is Mine….”
I understand that you may not believe in God, or at least not in the God of wrath revealed in the Bible. Perhaps this is why you are so concerned to do what you think God would do in this situation if God were real enough to reveal standards your secular state could really follow. Or maybe you are just impatient with alternative ways of reading the Bible.
The context of submitting to the powers that God has ordained is important. 1. There is a difference between God ordaining evil to happen and God approving that evil. 2. There is a difference between submitting to the powers and agreeing that these powers are following God’s standards Satan does God’s work.
The Bible commands Christians to never exercise vengeance but to leave it to God. You can claim that the justice you advocate is not vengeance and not God’s wrath. But then Romans 13:4 (context!) says that the magistrate “is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”
Notice that the governors are executing the specific function which Romans 12:19 commanded Christians to leave to God. Though this does not prove that none of the governors are Christians, it does prove that none of them are obeying God at this point! And the text teaches us that God uses this disobedience (not leaving it to God) as wrath. God does not have to approve of the standards of the unforgiving secular regime in order to restrain sin with more sin.
This may sound more complicated than it is. The editorial page wants the Amish to go by the Bible, but not as the Amish have interpreted it but as non-Anabaptists do. But in the meanwhile, the editorial page has no notion that secular judges would go by either the Old or New Testaments.
So go by the Bible, which means letting us do it our way, which is not the way the Bible tells Christians to do it. Of course we will celebrate you for forgiving a murderer if that man is already dead. But if the criminal still lives, then we must have our justice now and not wait for God. Not only will this protect our families, but our wrath has already determined what the crime “deserves”.
In none of your appeal to the Bible do you refer to the death of Jesus Christ at the hands of Rome’s secular justice. James 1:19 “Human anger does not produce the righteousness that God requires.” Psalm 76: 10—“Even human wrath shall praise you, for you are to be feared. Who can stand before you when your anger is roused?”