The 2012 election in the United States was certainly one of the most aggressive and closest races in history. When the dust finally settled, the popular vote was split nearly evenly between the two candidates. Many of the “religious right” seemed rather shocked and upset that their conservative candidate didn’t win. How could this be? Surely God wanted their candidate to win, and surely there were far more prayers being offered up on the conservative side than the liberal side. Yet none of this seemed to matter.
This loss had a lot of people wondering just how much of a role God plays in appointing our leaders. Luckily for us, the Bible answers this question!
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.
— Romans 13:1
Jesus answered [speaking to Pilate], “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.”
— John 19:11
By me kings reign…
— Proverbs 8:15
…he removes kings, and sets up kings…
— Daniel 2:21
Then God removed Saul and made David their king…
— Acts 13:22
No one … can exalt themselves. It is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another.
— Psalms 75:6-7
…the Most High has power over human kingdoms. He gives them to whomever he wishes.
— Daniel 4:17
If it’s true that “there is no authority except that which God has established,” it raises many perplexing questions:
- Should we bother to vote if God is just going to elect who he wants, anyway?
- If all leaders are appointed by God, why do they disagree?
- Why does God appoint evil leaders? Why not just appoint righteous ones?
- Must we follow the orders of evil leaders?
1. Should we bother to vote if God is just going to elect who he wants, anyway?
A few Christians actually say no, and forgo voting in favor of prayer. They believe that since God will divinely appoint the leader he desires anyway, voting is futile. They feel the most important thing is for them to pray that God will rise up a worthy leader.
Other Christians disagree, and some say they vote because they know how God would want them to vote, but this is demonstrably false. For example, in this last election, the majority of the religious-right voted for the more religiously conservative candidate, but God appointed the opposing candidate. This suggests that God’s will was actually for the other candidate to win, and the religious-right didn’t understand God’s will at all.
2. If all leaders are appointed by God, why do they disagree?
The Bible not only teaches that God appoints our leaders, it also says he controls their behavior:
The king’s heart is like a stream of water directed by the LORD; he guides it wherever he pleases.
— Proverbs 21:1
But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron…
— Exodus 9:12
If it’s true that all world leaders are appointed and controlled by God, then we might expect to see better collaboration among them, as if they were all led by a single unifying force.
There should be no world wars, because all leaders should agree on what needs to be done. They should say things like, “We all feel that Sweden deserves punishment, because they’re a bunch of godless heathens. We should bomb them and instate a Christian theocracy!” Instead, our leaders squabble over everything.
But if a single God were not motivating them all, then we would expect them to disagree, which is what they do.
3. Why does God appoint evil leaders? Why not just appoint righteous ones?
Being the benevolent bloke he is, you would think that God would only appoint benevolent leaders. After all, it’s supposed to be man and Satan who desire evil, not God. So why the evil leaders?
While Christians sometimes admit to struggling with this question, the suggestions they offer usually fall into two categories: 1) God does it to judge a people or nation and/or 2) God does it to bring about an even greater good.
The first possibility is that God wishes to serve up a heaping spoonful of wrath upon some well-deserving people or nation. Of course, God could just send a plague or rain down some fire and brimstone, but sometimes he prefers to let others do his dirty work for him.
Christians sometimes cite the kings of Babylon and Assyria as examples. God used them to punish the Jews, but for a good reason. And just to show that God is fair, he later punished Babylon and Assyria for punishing the Jews… even though God appointed these kings and made them do it, it was still wrong of them to do what God made them do (try and wrap your head around that one). But getting back to the point, the Jews were punished for a reason.
So does God really assign power to evil leaders just so they can dole out his punishments? I think this is an easy argument to make, because there is no country that is free from sin, and so a case can be made for why God would want to punish any nation.
However, if there’s one group that God seems hellbent on punishing, it’s the weak and defenseless. Evil leaders don’t seem to discriminate according to God’s will, attacking only those who deserve it most. Rather, they attack where they can win, in order to expand their borders and garner greater prosperity and security for themselves, their families, and their people. If God wasn’t controlling world leaders, this is exactly what we might expect them to do.
The next suggestion is that God is attempting to bring about some greater good, such as saving souls or bringing about the end of the world. GotQuestions.org cites the persecution of the early church as an example. Clearly God didn’t think the early Christians deserved to be punished, he only punished them so they would scatter, which would help to spread the gospel! But by the same logic, we could argue that God also persecuted the early Mormons, forcing them from town to town so their gospel could spread as well. Is God persecuting all these different religions to help them grow? Or is it just typical for new religions to be persecuted by competing faiths?
Ultimately, it’s impossible to prove that any evil leader isn’t somehow bringing about some event that helps God in his mysterious plan, or that God isn’t punishing a nation that may have deserved it.
4. Must we follow the orders of evil leaders?
Imagine being a Christian under Hitler’s Third Reich, when a young Jewish boy comes knocking at your door, begging you to hide him. What is the Christian thing to do? Do you risk your life to hide him? Or do you sell him out to the Nazis?
Being a good Christian, you consult your manual, which says:
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority…
— 1 Peter 2:13
Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves… For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
— Romans 13:2-5
If you’ve already resigned yourself to accepting that evil and suffering must exist for a reason, then it could logically follow that God appoints evil leaders to make sure such evil continues. If God appointed only peaceful leaders, there would be a lot less evil, negating its purpose.
Recognizing that 1) evil is integral to God’s plan, and 2) God elects and controls our leaders, and 3) to “rebel against the authority” would mean “rebelling against what God has instituted,” you must logically conclude that God wants Christians to support the plans of evil leaders. Ergo, you must surrender this boy to the Nazis, who “do not bear the sword for no reason.” Hiding the child would only hinder God’s greater plan!
As a last resort, believers may try to wriggle out of this conclusion by claiming that God, in fact, does not appoints all leaders, pointing to Hosea 8:4.
They set up kings without my consent; they choose princes without my approval.
— Hosea 8:4
The Biblical consensus is overwhelming that God appoints leaders, and is in control of those in power, and this verse appears to be the only exception to that rule.
It is a logical impossibility for there to exist “no authority except that which God has established” and for there to also exist authorities that God has not established. Either God establishes all authority, or he does not, you can’t have it both ways.
So does God appoint evil leaders? According to the Bible, yes.
This fact highlights many contradictions that exist in God’s behavior: he’s benevolent, yet gives rise to evil leaders; he leads his followers to vote for one leader, yet he appoints another; he guides the motives of all leaders, yet they still disagree; he orders his followers to do good, and then orders them to obey evil leaders; he punishes nations and people who are helpless, and grants victory to evil tyrants; and he insists he establishes all authority, and then denies establishing all authority.
If the Bible is truly inspired by God, one wonders why such contradictions exist.