Again, for a variety of reasons--some temperamental, some political, some theological--I've always struggled with Romans 13.
But for reasons I've outlined over the last few posts, I've been rethinking my reactions to this text. Stated simply, when I place myself in certain social locations, like a woman in a village in Africa or a stateless person in a refugee camp, I can see how Paul's claim that a functioning state is "God's servant for your good."
One last reflection about this.
What really has given me pause regarding my antipathy for Romans 13 is what I think is the obvious source of most of the suffering in the world.
I'm a compassionate person and I'd like for the suffering in the world to stop. And when I ask myself the question--What is the source of most of the violence and poverty in the world?--I think the answer is pretty clear.
Whenever you look at locations of widespread and persistent violence and destitution in the world you'll find a failed state.
Thus it stands to reason that one of the things most helpful to human flourishing, if we seek to escape violence and destitution, is a stable, functioning state.
And if you doubt this, let me encourage you again to watch Gary Haugen's talk about the locust effect.
Now before I say anything more about this, let me add an important clarification.
When I say that failed states are the source of most of the violence and destitution in the world I am not blaming the failure on those states. Most of the failed states worldwide are due to the dark legacy of colonialism. During the colonial era the West broke and crippled many states. And the West continues to cripple these states politically and economically.
Consider also what happened in Iraq after the second Iraq war under George W. Bush. We cracked Iraq and couldn't put Humpty Dumpty back together again.
So my point here isn't to blame failed states for failing and continuing to fail. There are historical, cultural, political and economic reasons for these failures, failures often rooted in a colonial past that continues to cast a very long shadow.
Still, and this is a key point, however we sort out the blame game, what people need in these places are functioning states. Functioning law enforcement and justice systems and economies.
Because origins aside, I think it is clear that in the absence of a functioning state there is massive, widespread, persistent and catastrophic suffering.
And I think that is what Paul meant when he said that the state is "God's servant for your good."