What's the problem with the state?

Following up on my previous post, I think I might have a glimpse into the consistency between the anti-state trends in Scripture and the fact that, probably (I concede now), Jesus was not prohibiting all use of violence whatsoever.

Firstly, that the Scriptures tend to be anti-state. There’s the OT anti-monarchial theme. That this exists is beyond dispute, and the most reasonable explanation is that God is telling us that states as permanent entities of coercion tend to always go wrong and end up opposing his kingdom.

Then we have verses in Ecclesiastes, about how life goes under the sun (i.e., all the time), that say: “Furthermore, I have seen under the sun that in the place of judgment there is wickedness and in the place of righteousness there is wickedness,” and “If you see oppression of the poor and denial of justice and righteousness in the province, do not be shocked at the sight; for one official watches over another official, and there are higher officials over them.”

Thirdly, there’s the attitude that Jesus shows towards the powers/authorities. Jacques Ellul’s provocative work Anarchy and Christianity, signaled me to this (as well as all the passages I pointed out above, though he gives more). Jesus first of all apparently believes that all the kingdoms of the world are under the authority of Satan himself (compare the temptations of Christ with Christ’s response to Pilate in the Gospel of John, about who “has the greater sin”, as well as NT statements about “the god of this world” blinding the minds of unbelievers and about the Dragon having the power to give all the kingdoms of the world to the beast in Revelation). As well, he seems to generally treat the authorities of his day as a joke. Consider: his ridiculous miracle of paying a tax by having Peter catch a fish with the exact amount in it (he did a ridiculous miracle to ridicule the authorities and their tax). Or consider his treatment of the authorities during his trial: he only opens his mouth to subtly accuse them of being without justice whatsoever, or to be a smart-alec (“You have said so!”). Otherwise he doesn’t even dignify their “courts of justice” with a response.

Fourthly, there’s the anti-imperial Revelation as a whole (regardless of which “empire” it is referring to).

Finally there are the statements which describe the church as being at war with the “authorities”, though not with carnal weapons (fitting with Jesus’ anti-zealot political agenda). Often, it is true, it is said these authorities are in the heavenlies, but this is not always the case (1 Cor. 2:6-8), and this is actually consistent with a suspicion of and opposition to the state: the state is presented as being in league with these powers we are opposing, so really both are probably in view in most of these cases.

It seems that the Scriptures emphatically support Lord Acton’s famous dictum: power corrupts. Or at least, violent power as an abiding possession of an institution (as opposed to as given directly by special revelation from God, what the Israelites rejected when they demanded a king like all the other nations) corrupts. Perhaps this is the consistent attitude Scripture enjoins upon us: true, violence itself is not always wrong, but the state always inevitably ends up opposing God and his church because violence inherently leads people towards being unjust if it is not directly commanded by God. The church is to oppose the state not because it uses violence per se, but because its use of violence leads to it becoming what Jesus says all rulers are like: “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them: and those who have authority over them have themselves called ‘Benefactors’.”

But it shall not be so with you. The church opposes the state not because it is violent per se, but because its violence inevitably leads to its dominating its subjects, and this domination opposes the very character of God Himself.


As a post-script: after writing this I had another “epiphany”. If James Jordan’s understanding of the Tree of Knowledge is correct, that “the knowledge of good and evil” is judicial (i.e., violent) authority, then there is perhaps another way to read the history of salvation that confirms my above view. That is, while on earth, Jesus seemed to eschew all violence for our sake (as an example for us), but once he died and was raised by the Father to his right hand, he executes vengeance from God’s throne (seen in, firstly, Jerusalem at AD 70, but presumably continually through history). Further, the problem with Adam and Eve taking the fruit was not that they were never supposed to have it, but that they weren’t ready for it. Then we have Paul in 1 Cor. 6 saying that believers will be judging angels in the world to come, considered alongside Jesus’ general commandment to his followers to not judge. Finally we have the directive to believers to entrust judgment to God (in this age), but apparently being raised to judge with him in the age to come.

I think this all fits: the states will inevitably become oppressive and opposed to God because they essentially are repeating Adam’s problem; they have judicial authority but are also part of the Old Age, an immature age which is not ready for the judicial authority that it has taken for itself. But in the age to come, after the resurrection, which Jesus is already in, we will be ready to execute vengeance rightly; we will have the knowlege of good and evil and be mature enough to use it rightly. (This also fits with the fact that complete salvation, complete entry into the Age to Come, only happens after our physical resurrection; until then we are still partly in the Old Age, and thus continue to struggle with it even in ourselves.)

The one monkey-wrench in this view would be the “realized eschatology” themes of the NT, which seem to say we are already reigning/judging with Christ. But I think these, when they are understood correctly, only serve to confirm this reading: we judge now by praying in the name of Christ; we judge by asking God to judge. In the age to come, after we have gone through death and resurrection, we will judge directly (as seen in the fact that we will judge the angels, or that cities will rise up to judge other cities on the last day). Regardless, any statements about being co-regents with Christ now have to be consistent with all the things I pointed out in the main body of this post, so I still think my view here is best.