Civil Disobedience In an Age of Tyranny:
by Gerald R. Thompson
RESPONDING TO LAWLESS GOVERNMENT
Granted, we live in a fallen world, not just in the aggregate, but each one of us individually. We as citizens will make mistakes of judgment, and every government employee, whether judge, jury or law enforcer, are in the same boat. But does this excuse anyone? Just because everyone is fallen (sinful/lawless), does that actually operate to negate individual responsibility? Of course not.
The governments of this world, so long as they have been in existence, have all been lawless to one degree or another. In my view, they have all been (without exception) mostly lawless. It’s hard to get a good perspective on the degree of lawlessness in any past society in order to compare it with the world today, but it’s safe to assume nothing has gotten appreciably better with time. There have been brief historical instances when by comparison it seemed as if a light was shining more brightly and there was hope for a better future. But all those days of past glory have long since faded.
I don’t consider myself a pessimist, because I hold out a great hope for God to restore the planet, society, religion and government. But this will occur in no part due to the efforts of people. Everything we touch becomes more corrupt over time. The world has only ever gotten worse – American society in particular – since the day I was born. I’ve lived long enough now to see a trend – and I don’t like it. But I cannot deny it.
Is there hope for the future? Not in law, nor religion, nor government. Are you waiting for the next spiritual revival or great awakening? Then, my friend, you are waiting for the Great Tribulation – and you don’t want to be there to see it. What am I saying? All the old ways of responding to lawlessness have been tried – and in the long run none of them made any difference. Sure, America broke free from Great Britain, and then what? Self-destruction in the Civil War, and everything has been one giant slide downhill ever since. Sure, we fought off a slew of tyrants in the big one – World War II. So what – where are we now? How long did the light last?
Can you not see it? America has already peaked. Our economy, our might, our justice, our moral character, our spiritual strength, our family life, our neighborhood and community life, and most of all our decent self-government – all these were at their highpoint in the past. None of them are truly strengthening – weakness has come to stay. The book of Lamentations is becoming more relevant all the time – you might want to read up on it. Go ahead – grieve for our squandered opportunity.
Do you think improvements in science and technology will save us? Are you waiting to make First Contact, so we’ll finally know that we’re not alone? Don’t make me laugh / gag / puke.
Petition, Flight and Political Action
We have to deal with evil in the world soberly, resolutely, and persistently. We have to confront it head on. We cannot simply run from it, nor is anything helped by endless talk.
My thesis is simple: it is the job of the civil governments of this world to restrain evil in society. When a government fails to do this, and becomes part of the evil in society, it is the job of the people to restrain the government, by whatever means is necessary. If the people fail in this task, the only remedy God has left is judgment, usually by war, plagues and/or dispossession. Look at all of the mighty empires and great civilizations of the world – where are they now? First they became corrupt, and then they became part of the dustbin of history. We must not be lulled into thinking that we should take the easiest way around the problem, and then we have done our duty.
That is exactly what those who suggest we should utilize the lesser remedies of petition and flight (among other responses) to combat government tyranny are hoping for. A simple way out – avoiding unpleasant confrontations – not willing to give offense. Running from the problem, is what I call it. Sure, I admit American history furnishes various examples of these responses. Many of the early settlers from Europe – not all, certainly, but a significant number – came for reasons of flight, i.e., fleeing oppression (often for religious reasons).
America also has an unparalleled documentary history of petition after petition, mostly directed to Great Britain, naming grievances, seeking redress or relief, and in general attempting to resolve the differences between the American Colonies and England with diplomacy. If you just trace the scope of grievances, basis claimed for relief, and the form of redress threatened from the Resolutions of the Stamp Act Congress (1765), up through the Declaration of Independence (1776), you will never see a series of petitions more thoughtfully presented, logically written, and masterfully constructed than these.
But the responses of flight and petition are wholly inapplicable today. First, as to flight, there is simply nowhere left to go. There is no more “New World.” Is there really anywhere one can go to avoid tyranny and still be a part of civilization? How many uninhabited islands are there, which are still unclaimed by a civil government? And if you theoretically were able to find such an island, claim it and move there, how would you possibly defend it? Do you really expect you can go somewhere no one can find you or make trouble for you? Not in the age of satellites and GPS, you can’t. Plus, you run the risk China will simply build a new island next to you.
Besides, what is resorting to flight, except a giving up of trying to enforce the laws of God where one is, in the hope of finding somewhere else less evil? As if. But the whole point of rightful civil disobedience is to enforce or implement God’s laws where one is now. It won’t help correct an unlawful situation if I just pack up and leave. Civil disobedience is a choice to stay and fight. Flight is just an attempt to escape – an attempt that, in today’s world, isn’t likely to produce any satisfactory results (unless you’re fleeing to America). But tell me, where do the Americans flee to?
Second, is there really anything you can petition about that hasn’t already been petitioned to death? Are you really going to complain about something to your town council, state legislature, or your Congressman, that they have never heard before and at the same time will be receptive to? Do you really think petitioning for an end to abortion, an end to secular humanism being taught in the public schools, or an end to promoting the LGBT agenda, is going to get you anywhere? You mean to tell me we just haven’t petitioned about these things enough yet to warrant taking any further action? Bang your head against that wall if you want – it only stops hurting when you stop.
I’m all for participating in the political process, if that’s what you want to do. There is nothing inherently wrong with utilizing social media, paid lobbying, filing lawsuits, and organizing group protests (demonstrations, marches, speeches, rallies). You can try to get a constitutional amendment passed – if you have a decade or two and a few hundred million dollars. Perhaps you want to run for elected office, become a part of the system and work for change from within – because that method has worked so well in the past. Dream on. “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” (Ecc. 1:2).
The one rule of government is – “Resistance is futile.” Government stops for no one. Everyone who becomes part of the government eventually becomes part of the problem.
The Doctrine of Lower Magistrates
What other possible responses are left, besides civil disobedience? Well, there’s armed rebellion, and the Doctrine of Lower Magistrates. Both are impractical in the extreme – and therefore useless.
Sure, there might be a time, place, or small banana republic country where armed rebellion from within would (theoretically) make sense, but: a) it’s probably already been tried there numerous times with disastrous results each time; and b) it couldn’t possibly make sense in America, or any other major nation, today. You want to take on the full military might of the United States or any other major country by staging an armed insurgency? If so, you can count me out.
Yes, I’m aware of the American Revolutionary War. But that was waged against a foreign power located across an ocean at a time when transportation and communication took weeks or months. In other words, there was a distinct home field advantage in favor of the Colonists. If you declare war against America from within (as a means of resisting or restraining evil), the military forces are domestic, not foreign, communications are instantaneous and transportation is nearly so. Plus, the military has a lock on all the really lethal elements of warfare. There is nowhere you can run to or hide, you cannot possibly win, and you will be hunted down as a domestic terrorist. In the end, you will restore nothing concerning the laws of God.
As for the Doctrine of Lower Magistrates, it is only slightly less useless. The doctrine holds that the unlawful exercise of civil power may be restrained only by a civil officer who interposes himself between the offending civil ruler and the people for the purpose of restoring the lawful use of civil power. The right of interposition is not available to individuals, but only to the lawful representatives of the people. In other words, no one can appoint or declare themselves to be a representative of the people – one must actually be chosen by the people one represents. Which means, most of the time, you have to find someone else in authority to do your dirty work.
Historically, this was the method by which the American colonists were able to form a legitimate or lawful resistance (under the laws of God – not according to the British). It was possible in the late 1700’s in America only because the “official” government originated from and was imposed by an outside body, i.e., the British Parliament. It was actually expected of the American colonists that they would form representative bodies to handle many government tasks while the British ostensibly had overall governing authority. In other words, the colonial governments weren’t formed solely for the purpose of revolting – they pre-existed the Revolution by many decades, operating normally.
More modernly, in 1963 George Wallace – the duly elected governor of Alabama (i.e., a lower magistrate) – several times personally tried to block a federal court order requiring the integration of black students at various schools and colleges in Alabama. As Wallace viewed it, he was interposing himself between the people of Alabama and the federal government, for the purpose of restoring historic Alabama state laws requiring segregation. For his trouble, he was vilified mercilessly by the media.
You may say, “that’s a horrible example.” Yet it illustrates how much things have changed, not only since the 1960’s, but especially since the 18th century. For better or worse, anyone who is a legitimate lower magistrate is in all likelihood a career politician. And any politician who attempts to publicly interpose himself for any reason whatsoever, risks being viewed as a loose cannon (at best), more likely branded a rogue operative, and most probably will end his political career. No career politician today wants to have a legacy like George Wallace.
Plus, anyone who actually attempts to set up a legitimate government within a government today (i.e., attempting to mirror the Colonial governments) will be accused of creating a dreaded shadow government – to the delight of conspiracy theorists everywhere. The problem is, there is no legitimate reason to set up a shadow government except for the purposes of revolution or overthrow. There is simply no possibility today of setting up a secondary government for legitimate ongoing government operations. We simply cannot import the methods used 200 years ago into the present.
I willingly concede that the right to alter or abolish the government is not a right of the individual, but is only a right of the whole people acting as a body, usually in a representative form. We have no individual right to abolish the government. Before we can exercise those rights, we must get consent of the governed in some representative way. Attempts to abolish the government – or even to alter it – on a individual basis are lawless.
Over the years, people have argued that civil disobedience is similar, i.e., that it is appropriate only in a corporate capacity, in which at least some form of the doctrine of lower magistrates is invoked. Which pretty much renders civil disobedience an impossibility, as it depends for its validity on the willingness of career politicians to interpose themselves for each separate act of disobedience. However, I suggest the doctrine of lower magistrates is only appropriate in a context of advocating systemic change, i.e., an alteration or abolition of the government, or armed resistance (revolution).
Civil disobedience, by its nature, is completely different. Primarily, the purpose of civil disobedience, as I conceive it, is to restore the operation of the laws of nature and nature’s God – not to change the overall system or structure of civil government. To change an individual law – perhaps. To change the government system – no. Plus, civil disobedience can be done on an individual basis, and in doing so you speak for no one else, nor are you doing it for anyone else, so neither the consent nor the representation of others is involved. The whole reason I have framed the nature of our rights, our accountability, and our decision-making authority in individual terms, is to show that ultimately, civil disobedience is an individual matter.
Therefore, I don’t find the Doctrine of Lower Magistrates useful in deriving any legal or biblical principles of civil disobedience at all.
Command and Prohibit
I mentioned earlier that I would come back to the topic of whether civil disobedience is limited to instances in which laws are gravely unjust or require those subject to them to do something unjust or otherwise immoral. A classic formulation of the rule goes like this: has civil government prohibited what God commands, or commanded what God has prohibited? Under this formulation, these are the only instances in which civil disobedience is justified.
From time to time, others have suggested an even more stringent test. Namely, in order for civil disobedience to be appropriate, first, the command of the government or a civil ruler must operate directly on the potential disobeyer. That is, the disobeyer must be commanded by law to do, or not to do, something. Commands or laws directed towards others don’t count. Also, commands which merely limit the means by which the disobeyer fulfills his duty towards God, also don’t count. In other words, such laws or commands to not give rise to lawful civil disobedience.
Second, the command of the magistrate must itself be unlawful. That is, the law or command must itself violate the laws of nature and of nature’s God, and must also require the disobeyer to violate lonang. Whether other private persons are or are not violating God’s laws at the same time or in a similar way is irrelevant – we never escape responsibility for our own actions by pointing the finger at other wrongdoers.
Honestly, if these so-called principles are intended to reflect, or be based upon, the laws of nature and nature’s God, I can’t imagine how. For one thing, the requirement that the command of a civil ruler must operate directly on the disobeyer and not someone else is rather obvious. If I do something that I am not personally prohibited from doing, or fail to do something I am not personally required to do, and the requirement is only binding on others, then my actions are, by definition, not disobedient. We are none the wiser for determining when civil disobedience is or is not lawful. It is of no help whatsoever to say that in order for something to be a lawful form of civil disobedience, it must first be disobedient. Duh!
But let’s get to the heart of the matter. Is civil disobedience appropriate when I am not required to do something unjust or immoral (i.e., unlawful as per lonang), but I am simply denied the liberty to choose how I would fulfill my duty towards God? I can find no support for such a rule anywhere in scripture, or the laws of nature and nature’s God.
There are two instances of civil disobedience in the Bible which almost anyone familiar with scripture knows about. The first is found in Dan. 3, when King Nebuchadnezzar commanded all the people to bow down and worship his golden statue or else suffer a fiery death. However, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (friends of Daniel) disobeyed the king’s command and refused to worship his idol. The argument is usually made that obedience would have made the three Jews guilty of idolatry, something expressly prohibited by God. Thus, disobedience was appropriate.
Similarly, when the rulers and elders of Israel prohibited the apostles from preaching in the name of Jesus, Peter and John responded that they were compelled to speak of what they saw and heard (Acts 4:18-20). Shortly thereafter, the apostles were again warned not to teach in Jesus’ name, when Peter made the quintessential statement of civil disobedience, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29). Another classic example of faith-based civil disobedience.
But wait. Were the apostles commanded to do something unjust or immoral? Let us be fair – if the apostles had simply gone elsewhere to preach, or decided to hold a private home Bible study instead of teaching in a public place, would either of those actions have required them to do something unjust or immoral? No, indeed. All the command of the rulers and elders did was to limit the liberty of the apostles to choose how, when and where they would fulfill their duty towards God.
Yet, who would deny that the response of the apostles was both an act of civil disobedience, and something that was lawful under the laws of God? Did the apostles act less lawfully than Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? Suppose the Jewish rulers and elders had not flat out prohibited the apostles from preaching in Jesus’ name, but simply required the apostles to get a license to preach. Or perhaps required the apostles to pay over a percentage of earnings derived from their living from the Gospel (i.e., imposed an income tax).
Did God ever prohibit Christians from getting licenses, or government from granting them? If you find the scripture showing God did either of those, I’d like to see it. Did God ever prohibit Christians from paying fees or taxes? No. Remember “render to Caesar,” etc.? Yet, historically in America, both taxation and licensing of religious teachers was viewed as a just cause for civil disobedience. This idea that God doesn’t want us to disobey unlawful or improper restrictions on our liberties would certainly surprise the early Americans. Perhaps Patrick Henry, who said “Give me liberty, or give me death!” was outside the will of God in saying that? Not on your life.
Instances of Civil Disobedience in the Bible
I hesitate, however, to rely on these few examples to illustrate a general principle of civil disobedience. In fact, these biblical examples have tended to limit the understanding of civil disobedience among commentators, primarily because they involve only religious observances or religious liberty. Let’s consider some other biblical examples. (This is not intended to be an exhaustive list – only some obvious cases.)
In Exo. 1, the Egyptian midwives disobeyed a direct command of Pharaoh to kill all Hebrew baby boys. When that command was frustrated by the midwives, Pharaoh extended the command to “all his people.” (Exo. 1:22). Thereafter, the mother of Moses hid him for three months, and then finally put him in a place where he could be spared. If you argue she was not directly commanded by Pharaoh because she was not one of “his people,” just ask yourself whether it was Pharaoh’s wish that the baby Moses should live or not. And did his mother submit to Pharaoh’s wish or defy it?
Then there is the account in Josh. 2 of how Rahab (a non-Jew) hid the Hebrew spies doing recon in Jericho, and refused a direct order by the king of Jericho to turn the spies out. One could argue, plausibly, that Rahab acted out of no more of a noble purpose than merely saving her own skin (and her family). Yet, she is in the genealogical line of Jesus (a place of honor), and she is listed in the faith hall of fame in Heb. 11.
One could even argue that the command of Jericho’s king was not unlawful or immoral. The men Rahab hid were not falsely accused – they were real spies sent by a real enemy to commit actual espionage. If it was your home town and the governor issued an order to all citizens to reveal any enemy spies, would you – would anyone – view that as an unlawful or unjust command on the governor’s part? Yet, in spite of this, Rahab’s civil disobedience was justified.
In 1 Sam. 19, Jonathan disobeyed a direct order from his father Saul (the king of Israel) to kill David. In Dan. 6, Daniel defied an injunction signed by king Darius prohibiting anyone from making a petition (or praying) to any God or man other than Darius. And in Matt. 2, the wise men defied king Herod’s command to report back to him the location of the Christ child.
In each of these examples, other than Daniel, no religious motives were attached to the disobeyers. The mother of Moses did what? – she was fulfilling the Dominion Mandate of Gen. 1:28 when Pharaoh attempted to interfere with her (and her husband’s) liberty to bear children. The Egyptian midwives were simply following the general rule, “do not kill” – and not for any religious reasons. Jonathan also followed the moral rule (i.e., law of nature) not to kill. You do realize that each of the Ten Commandments are part of God’s eternal moral law (the law of nature), right?
For Daniel’s part, again like the apostles, it would not have been unjust or immoral for him to abstain from visibly praying to God in front of an open window (he could have just gone into his prayer closet) for thirty days. (Come on – do you really think Daniel was under a divine duty to pray by his window three times a day?) But Daniel knowingly and publicly defied the king’s order solely to pursue – nay, flaunt – his liberty to fulfill his duty to God as he saw fit in his discretion. And for that he is also a hero of the faith. Not a lawbreaker. Not a (gasp!) poor witness for God.
And what should we say of the wise men? They weren’t Hebrews or Christians. Religious motivations were not at play. They disobeyed the king because of a dream. Because of a dream. Disobeyers – heroes – dreamers. When I grow up, I want to be like them. But let’s complete the analysis – is there some principle in the laws of nature or nature’s God that prohibits the reporting of births to the government? We should probably assume the answer is No, or else most people reading this are guilty of violating that law. So then, on what legal basis were the wise men justified in disobeying the king? Are you beginning to see why disobedience is not necessarily confined to very narrow grounds or circumstances?
So let us finally put to bed (actually, let us kill and bury) the ideas that: 1) civil disobedience is not justified when we merely want to fully exercise the liberty God has given us in our unfettered discretion; 2) civil disobedience is only justified for religious purposes; and 3) the authority God has given to individuals and families for economic, occupational and other dominion purposes is any less important, less worthy, or less a proper basis for civil disobedience.
“He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and … to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” (Lk. 4:18). Somebody give me an Amen.
The Overriding Duty to Obey the Laws of God
Lawless civil government is everywhere. Lawless individuals are everywhere. Yet all are under the same mandatory requirement to obey the laws of God (the laws of nature and nature’s God). God’s law, being prescribed by the Creator, is mandatory and binding on all of us mere creatures. This duty is unavoidable. It is what Blackstone meant when he said that no “human laws should be suffered to contradict” the laws of God.
You shall be careful therefore to do as the Lord your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. (Deut. 5:32).
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. (Ecc. 12:13).
For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Mat. 5:18-19).
I anticipate that a lot of you right now will take issue with me. How dare I use Old Testament scriptures about the laws of God! Even the quote from Jesus was made while He was under the law (i.e., the Mosaic law). See, Gal. 4:4. We are under grace. not law.
How can I say this gently? You have been hoodwinked, bamboozled, snookered, taken for a ride, led down the garden path, sold a bill of goods, and conned.
Statements by Paul that we are under grace and not law (Rom. 6:14-15) have unfortunately been extrapolated far beyond the original meaning that salvation is a matter of grace rather than law, and taken blindly to mean all of God’s laws are no longer relevant since Jesus came. This shows a profound ignorance of the scope and enduring relevance of God’s laws, but that is the backdrop against which many people begin to assess the matter of civil disobedience.
So one of the first things that needs to be done is for people to realize how extensive God’s law is, and the extent to which it touches every aspect of their lives. That is one of the main reasons I gave you that long (partial) list of individual rights – each one of them is an area of life that God’s law touches. It is also why I discussed God’s laws of authority – so you could see how broad they are.
Do you really think the law of nature changed when Jesus came, died, and was resurrected? Did anything Jesus do alter the Ten Commandments? You say, but those only ever applied to ancient Israel. Then why have Christians universally adopted them as statements of God’s eternal moral law? Who is fighting to keep plaques commemorating the Ten Commandments in public places – Jews or Christians? Perhaps you’d better go back and check the Westminster Catechism.
Recall Blackstone, who said that the law of nature and the law of revelation were the supreme legal standard all human laws must conform to. Do you really think he was talking about religious laws, or Jewish laws? No, he was talking about God’s universal laws for all people, which may be found by observing creation, by carefully studying the Word of God, and by comparing the two with each other.
When the founders of America framed the laws of nature and nature’s God as the legal context for the nation, do you really think they meant anything other than what Blackstone meant? Don’t let your personal opinion of Jefferson’s religious views affect your response. He wasn’t writing just to express his personal views – he was writing what all the signers of the Declaration of Independence agreed to express after serious consideration and debate.
All I mean to say, by quoting those scriptures about keeping God’s commandments, is that God has some universal legal principles he wants everyone to keep – and whatever those are, we had better be faithful to carry them out and obey them. Your theological views will not excuse your non-compliance.
Consequently, we each have a paramount duty to respond to the lawless actions of others lawfully. You have heard it said, “two wrongs don’t make a right.” Biblically, the corresponding concept is, “don’t repay evil for evil.”
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. … Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Rom. 12:14, 17-19). See also, Heb. 10:30; Deut. 32:35; Ps. 94:1; 1 Thess. 4:6; 1 Pet. 3:9.
But remember whose set of definitions controls. When people act lawlessly towards you according to the laws of God, then you must respond lawfully towards them according to the laws of God. Which will normally mean, in the eyes of the lawless government official, he is acting lawfully towards you according to the laws of men, and you are responding towards him lawlessly according to the laws of men.
It may seem that every legal question is another version of one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor. Translation: one person’s exercise of power is viewed by another as an abuse of it. The other guy is always the lawless one, whether citizen or official. We all act lawfully in our own eyes.
However, don’t get spun into the trap of thinking that therefore, every possible viewpoint is just someone’s opinion, and at the end of the day, the person in authority is the one who must be right. The person in authority is you – if in fact you know what the laws of God are, and you act consistent with them. Sure, people will have different opinions of what is truly right, and what is truly wrong. Welcome to the war. This is what the battle between good and evil is all about.
Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness. (Isa. 5:20).
[F]or even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. (2 Cor. 11:14-15).
I’ll give you a little hint. Don’t be surprised when government employees claim to be servants of righteousness, even when they are enforcing the most hideous regulations and policies known to man. Did you ever wonder why people want to work for the government? Have you ever met a government employee who just loves to tell other people what they must or must not do? I know – dumb question. You have to be better than that.
But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Heb. 5:14).
Do you see that? – powers of discernment trained by constant practice. Be honest now – have you constantly been trained in your church to recognize the full scope of the laws of God, the full scope of family dominion, the full scope of individual liberty, and the very limited nature of the biblical functions of civil government? After 50 years of attending your church, have your biblical senses of discernment been made sharp as a tack, or have they been dulled by constant pablum? And in your home Bible studies and small group meetings, what do you spend your time talking about? Not the laws of God, I’ll wager.
When you decide that perhaps some form of civil disobedience is justified by the laws of God, you’d better be sure about it. And when you are sure, you can have the confidence that when you disobey a government rule, you are in fact, not repaying evil for evil. For if you act in conformity with God’s laws, no matter what other people think, you are not being evil or acting evil. It is never evil to obey the laws of God rather than the laws of men.
Nor is it ever about vengeance. There are plenty of scriptures warning against taking your own vengeance, and I have cited several of them above. Civil disobedience is not a way of getting back at someone. Don’t disobey to hurt someone, or merely to show them how they can’t boss you around. This is the law of God we’re talking about – it’s sacred. Disobedience is a way of fulfilling your sacred duty. It’s not supposed to be petty, about personalities, or a form of self-empowerment. It’s about doing the right thing, even if it costs you.
One little variation
I couldn’t help but be struck, as I reviewed the examples of civil disobedience in the Bible, that some of them were motivated not by any law of God, so much as by the special will of God. I’m thinking specifically about Rahab, and secondarily about the wise men – Gentiles all – who were not bound by any part of the Mosaic law and whose actions did not conform to or restore any universal law of God I can think of.
Yet their actions conformed to the special will of God in each case. And all I mean by that is God had a particular plan to do a specific thing, and Rahab and the wise men willingly participated in it. For Rahab, she was part of God’s plan for the Jews to conquer the land of Canaan, and unknown to her, she was part of the genealogy of Christ. For the wise men, they were part of God’s plan for the birth (and safety) of the Christ child.
Exceptional cases, to be sure. Yet I can’t help but think sometimes God may still have us do things – in this present age, and contrary to the wishes of people in power – that serve a special purpose. Of course, you can never prove to anyone else God told you do disobey someone. But isn’t that really just a perfect example of making an individual decision before God and God alone to serve the will of the ultimate superior? Risky – yes, and unverifiable – but still possible. No?