"Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." James 1:22 (NKJV)

Monday, March 1, 2010

Week 5: Submit to Governing Authorities, Part 1

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. ~Romans 13:1

The first time I rode down Sniper Alley in Sarajevo in the back of a Humvee, I was twenty-one years old and scared out of my wits. It was the end of 1995, a few days after Christmas. I had been deployed to Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina as an Army Reservist to take part in NATO's implementation of the recently signed Dayton Peace Agreement. Sarajevo had been under siege for the last three years---the longest siege of any city in the history of modern warfare. The main boulevard through the city had been nicknamed Sniper Alley. Snipers had infamously dug in all along both sides of the road, wounding over one-thousand people and killing over two-hundred men, women and children.

Buildings all over the city were in ruins. Sarajevo had once been a developed, modern city---the home of the 1984 Winter Olympics. When I saw it for the first time, it looked like a scene from a post-apocalyptic movie.

My first stop in Sarajevo was Zetra Stadium. In 1984, it had been the home of Olympic figure skating, speed skating and hockey. Only eight years later, the roof was blown off by artillery fire. The basement was converted to a morgue. Whatever wood that could be salvaged from the building was used to build improvised coffins. When NATO arrived, the stadium was converted into a temporary barracks and headquarters. It was my home address for my first few months in Bosnia. We slept right on the spot where the bodies had been piled.

The Bosnian war had come about as a result of the fall of the Communist system in the former Yugoslavia. In the absence of the Communist regime, there was a power vacuum, particularly in Bosnia, the most ethnically diverse part of the former Yugoslavia. Old feuds between ethnic groups were fanned into flame by opportunist politicians. Bosnia spiraled into political chaos and then an incredibly vicious civil war between three factions, with horrible atrocities committed on every side.

My assignment this week is to submit myself to governing authorities. It's made me think about Sarajevo, for the first time in a long time. For me, the experience was a shocking lesson about the potential for human cruelty and wickedness. It was also a lesson in the value of having a strong order-keeping and rule-enforcing government authority. When I left Bosnia in July 1996, Sarajevo had experienced an amazing turnaround. Markets, restaurants, mosques and churches were open. People walked around on the streets with a sense of safety and confidence. The peace and order imposed by 66,000 NATO troops made all the difference. I had gone to Bosnia with a libertarian political ideology, believing government was at best a necessary evil. I came home understanding the value of law and order and viewing a strong civil authority as a blessing and a gift of grace from God.

I'm not suggesting that all government is good, or even that everything our own government does is good. In the United States, over one-million babies are aborted every year. That's five times the number of people killed in the entire Bosnian war, and it's legally sanctioned and approved by the United States government.

In China, the government has arrested and tortured Christians for worshiping outside of state sanctioned churches, for talking openly about Jesus, and for giving away Bibles. In fact, things are getting worse for Christians in China. Human rights groups have documented an increasing number of arrests of Chinese Christians since 2004. Conditions are even worse for Christians in North Korea and in totalitarian Islamic countries like Iran.

And, still, the Bible commands Christians everywhere to submit to governing authorities. What were the practical implications of this command for first-century Christians living under the oppression of the Roman empire? What are the implications today for Christians in China? Or Iran? The answers to those questions are beyond my grasp and well outside the scope of this project. I think, however, we can only begin to grasp the meaning of this command once we understand that we are called to obey government authorities out of reverence to God, not out of reverence to the government. As the Apostle Peter said, "Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution." 1 Peter 2:13.

This week, my goal is not to understand all of the implications of this command, but simply to make a personal, practical response to it. The question is: what are the implications for me---a suburban dwelling, middle-class American with two kids (a third on the way) and a government desk job? I've been thinking about how I can respond to this command in some practical ways. It boils down to my driving and what I wear around my neck.


  1. In my mind, it has been only a vague fact that you were in the military. Thank you for sharing about this part of your life- something about which I had no idea.

  2. Thanks, Nikki. One of my goals for the project is to be more transparent and better known. I've also been thinking that I'd like to pass this stuff down to my kids as a heritage to them. So, I wanted to share some of my life experiences when it felt appropriate.

  3. Maybe one day the blog becomes a book? I would buy it...

  4. A book, eh? I'm just going to take it one week at a time---a lot of weeks left!

  5. I hadn't kept up with the blog Computer problems and all. I just got on today to ck it out and had to backtrack several weeks. I wanted to read it in order. I am so proud of you my son and grateful to the Lord for taking you here. Be Blessed