Neither our command as Christians to submit to earthly authorities, nor the fact that God has ordained all actual authorities by his decretive will, leads to the conclusion that the evil deeds of those individuals in government power are somehow morally justifiable. For besides God’s decretive will, there exists his preceptive will, also known as his eternal moral law which binds all men. Not only does God ordain all evil, including totalitarian governments, but we are also called to “arrange ourselves under” (hypotassō -see here) the same; therefore obedience to government seems generally wise and prudent even when government acts wrongly (socialized medicine) unless we are explicitly ordered by the government to do something that contradicts God’s moral law. The point is that yes we are commanded to arrange under, and yes God has decreed all things, but the government agents are still morally responsible for their actions. On the day of judgement no bureaucrat or President will say to the Lord that the evil deeds done were done while in office, and are therefore exempt from the standard so ordained by God.
This serves to silence both the State’s ardent defenders who use Romans 13 to justify all sorts of evil activity and also the specific type of anti-State proponent who desires to physically take matters into his own hands and overthrow current government power by rebellion.
We might follow Ron Paul’s message that political influence must take place in the realm of ideas and debates and speaking the truth; not by forceful and violent revolution. This method is the same as the method required for spreading the gospel.
UPDATE –More Thoughts on this concept:
One of the things that I don’t think I can emphasize enough is the fact that the command to subject ourselves to earthly governments doesn’t justify the actions of the government whenever and wherever it acts wrongly. “Wrongly” here is defined as contrary to the eternal moral law, which is the ethical standard for all people. Often, the well meaning Christian will say that we ought to submit to government and therefore such and such government program or effort is legitimate because Romans 13. This is horrible reasoning and sets the stage for all types of authoritarianism. The proper mindset is to subject ourselves to governments *despite* their wickedness. The proper use of ethics is to give us a standard by which we can recognize that the government, 99% of the time perhaps, acts wrongfully by using force against those who have not by force or fraud aggressed against others.
Just because we ought to turn the other cheek does not justify or make right the bad actions of men in positions of power. Most of what governments do in our Age of the State is outrageously wicked and, if done by you and me, would rightly be considered criminal. There was just a story in the news about a 90 year old man who was arrested for illegally feeding the poor. The State should be ashamed of itself for such evil abuses of the use of force in society! But the State gets away with it because they have declared themselves the final arbitrator in every situation. Even still, we ought to arrange ourselves under its authority for peace’s sake (even if we don’t obey where it tells us to disobey the Lord). We might take John Piper’s word to heart:
“[The church is] not a political entity. Therefore, the word we have from the Lord today is love your enemy, pray for those who abuse you, lay your life down for the world; don’t kill in order to spread the gospel, die in order to spread the gospel.”
This is the spirit of Paul in Romans 13 in the context of both the evil Roman Empire and Romans 12 as well. In our subjecting ourselves to government, we do not make government wrongdoings into good actions. We do not eliminate the actual presence of our rights to life and property. Rather, we are making it plain that our life, liberty, and property, our not our chief treasures, Christ is! Our eyes ought to be eternally focused!