“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.” (Romans 13:4, ESV)
In Friday’s blog, I indicated that there were two questions that remained regarding the recent incidents with the response to the death of George Floyd. Here, I am referring to the unlawful acts of rioting, destruction and looting that we have seen, in addition to the death of Floyd at the hands of a policeman. The question that I will deal with today is this. Was the government correct in responding with force to stop the illegal assembly, violence and looting? However, perhaps a better question is what should be the government’s role in dealing with lawless acts?
Paul in writing about governing authority states, “he is God’s servant for your good.” God has instituted human governments for the good of the society. In this, government establishes and maintains laws that protect the rights of its citizens. In doing so, Paul writes that government, as a servant of God, is entrusted to “bear the sword.” This refers to the enactment of judgment upon those who do wrong.
For the government to “bear the sword,” as “an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer,” it is essential that there is a divine standard for the law. Otherwise, the government itself is out of order and must come under judgment. In other words, a government that enacts laws contrary to the precepts of Scripture is in grave danger of divine judgment. (More on this tomorrow.) For now, let us look at the incidents over the past couple weeks.
First let us look at the response of government to the death of Floyd. The officer who was involved in his death has been charged and is awaiting trial. The justice system is now doing its job as “an avenger.” The hope we have is that there will be a fair trial and that justice prevails.
With regards to the illegal assembly, rioting, destruction and looting, the government is rightly fulfilling its duties, to do what was necessary to stop this wrongful activity and bring to justice the perpetrators. The reason is that God has granted this power to human governments in order to have a civil society and to protect the rights of the law abiding.
In short, we have no right to break rightful laws that align with the divine standard. If we do, then we open ourselves to come under the sword. It seems to me that the authorities’ response to the events over the last several weeks was appropriate. Were there cases where unlawful excessive force was used? I do not know but in the case that there was, those perpetrators should come under the sword as well.