|Edward Snowden (Courtesy of Wikicommons)|
The New Testament is not silent on the role of government. In Chapter 13 of his letter to the Romans, Paul exhorts his readers to “submit [themselves] to the governing authorities.” Paul’s reasoning is not pragmatic, but is tied up in God’s sovereignty over earthly affairs: he writes “for there is no authority except that which God has established.” As result, “he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves”. Moreover, “if you do wrong, be afraid, for he [the ruler] does not bear the sword for nothing”. In short, the ruling authorities are to be treated with respect and a measure of fear, as they are instituted by God to administer justice.
|Image courtesy of Google images|
“For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.”
So it is really wrongdoers that ought to fear the government, not those who do right. Of course, we now have a problem of definition: who are “those who do right” and “those who do wrong”? I don’t think there is anything too controversial in suggesting that for Christian people “those who do right” must ultimately be those who trust and obey the Lord Jesus. If this is the case then any government acting against Christians has moved from being an administrator of God’s justice to a persecutor of God’s people. The Bible is clear on both the reality and certainty of persecution for Christians. Moreover, while persecution brings suffering in the here and now, it ultimately points to the certainty of hope in Jesus. Hence there is nothing to fear from a government that persecutes, for the Christian holds to certain hope of ultimate deliverance through Jesus.
So, do Christians have anything to fear from a government that monitors our every movement? At one level the answer is no, because God would ultimately deliver us from a persecuting government. That said, it does not seem adequate to say that since God gave the authorities the power to monitor all our activities, we should just accept it. The potential for misuse of surveillance is substantial, and it is not only Christians who might face injustice as a result of government intrusion. As people who put others before ourselves we should be attentive not only to our own vulnerability, but also of others who might face persecution from an intrusive tyrannical state. The scale of government monitoring now evident, we need to think about how we work toward change, not through illegal means, but by advocating through legitimate channels.
Did Edward Snowden do the right thing? I have no idea. His actions have certainly upset the US government who are making all sorts of claims about the legality of what has occurred. Moreover, he has almost certainly violated those confidentiality clauses that were part of his work arrangements. Deliverance for Edward Snowden appears to be coming from somewhat unexpected quarters, via the Russian, Cuban and Ecuadorian governments. Leaving aside the morality or legality of Mr Snowden’s actions, and his now precarious situation, through his disclosures he has flagged a significant issue with which we need to grapple. We can thank him for that.