June 7, 2017
Evil and the Two Kingdoms
14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them … 17Repay no one evil for evil, … 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God… 20To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
1Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. … 4for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Romans 12:14—13:4
Without skipping a beat, St. Paul contrasts the two kingdoms of God and how they are to respond to evil. Both kingdoms, the Church and the State, are under God’s authority and are ordained by Him. Neither is an invention of human reason, nor has permission to usurp authority from the other. The Church is to do its Kingdom work, and the State is to do its Kingdom work.
By “Church” I do not mean only the institution whereby we collectively preach repentance and forgiveness (Luke 24:47) through the ministry of God’s Word and the administration of the Sacraments. We are also the Church individually as we personally apply God’s grace in everyday life.
Such is the content of Paul’s 12 chapter of Romans cited above. The Church (collectively and individually) does not curse those who do evil, seek revenge, or is unkind to its enemies. We are not only to be innocent of the sin of commission, but also of the sin of omission. Therefore, we “overcome evil with good”. To our enemies we do the opposite of what they do to us.
It is what God did and still does for us in Christ. Though our sin gives God every reason to curse us eternally to hell, he reached into this world with sacrificial love on the cross. He continues to reach us with love, communicating in Scripture and Sacrament the never-ending and ever-patient mercy of God.
That is not the role that God has given His other Kingdom, the State, as Paul explains in Romans 13. While the Church is showing mercy, the State has the responsibility to impose order, even by way of punishing the evildoer. That too is a work of God.
Therefore, a Christian law enforcer or member of the military serves in both kingdoms. He or she will have two vocations: one as servant of the Church, the other as a servant of the State, in one to show mercy and kindness, in the other to punish evil.
The purpose of pointing these distinctions out is that our society gets them enmeshed and confused. When we try to make the State a place of mercy, ignoring the law and not protecting with force those it is to serve, chaos ensues. The Church is not free to fulfill its ministry. Likewise, when the Church becomes militant it gets in its own way. It presents only the vengeful God, not the Lord known in Christ as one who forgives and restores the penitent.
There are other finer points to this that are fodder for latter discussions, but suffice it to say here that God has ordained two kingdoms. Pray that each may do its own work, and not that of the other, so that the citizens of both kingdoms will be blessed.