In our last blog we discovered that Civil rulers are not free to make up their own version of what is right and what is wrong. Moral law is not in flux but it is fixed. Some may say, “That is well and good for nations with and extensive Christian witness, but what about nations that have never owned Christ? Are their civil rulers free to do as they wish?” This is the question we asked to close are last blog. So let’s wade into this territory them now.
Two Types of Revelation
Christians believe in two types of revelation. The first type, Special revelation is the revelation that is needed for mankind to know how God is to be worshiped and how human beings are to be saved. It is revelation that is special because it cannot be gleaned from nature and must be revealed by God in a way that is not common to everyone. The Bible is God’s special revelation.
21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, (1 Corinthians 1:21-23)
But there are aspects, indeed many aspects concerning God that can be gleaned from nature itself. The created world is God’s “General Revelation” and there is no corner on the globe in which this type of revelation is not heard. The Psalmist writes,
“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. 2 Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. 3 There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. 4 Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” (Psalm 19:1-4)
The Apostle Paul describes for us the internal workings of the human heart. A heart that has the moral law of God (10 Commandments) already written on it. 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Romans 1:18). So we see that the way God feels about moral wrong is known by mankind. But the truth is we often act against our conscience and often do what is “wrong” anyway. When we act against the Law of God and our own conscience, denying we have any knowledge of Him and his requirements, we “suppress the truth.” The truth is that “what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.” (Romans 1:19) How did God show it too them? Where can they find this knowledge? In two places mainly. The first place is the natural world 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:20) The second place is our own soul. Because whenever we do “right” we show that there is a right. And whenever we do “wrong” we show that there is a “wrong.” Whenever we point to right or wrong we show that we know there is a right and a wrong. ” 14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.” (Romans 2:14-15) This is not a social construct invented in the mind of man, but an indelible imprint by God of His law and character upon the hearts of man. We are moral creatures. This is the “Imago Dei.” This is what it means to be made in the image of God.
The Imago Dei and Civil Rulers
Since God has spoken through both an external witness in the created world, and in an internal witness within our own hearts that extends to every tribe, nation, and tongue… How can pagan civil rulers be excused when they make evil laws and act in evil ways? The answer is, they have no excuse. They cannot be excused, none of us can. “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.” (Romans 2:1) So whether one is a Christian living in a land that has never had an extensive Christian witness, or one living in a land that currently does, the answer is the same. We are under no obligation to obey an evil command. In fact, we are under an obligation, a much higher obligation I might add than any on earth, to resist it. For there is a God and a Law that is higher than all earthly powers. We collectively owe Him our allegiance. And in the same way, pagan civil rulers are themselves obligated to make just laws and to reward the good and punish the evil. Their paganism is not in any way an excuse. And when they keep their obligations, even though they are pagans, they are “the servant God” just as any Christian civil ruler is when they do the same.