In Esther 2:21-23 Mordecai uncovers a plot to assassinate the king and acts immediately to save the king’s life:
During the time Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate, Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s officers who guarded the doorway, became angry and conspired to assassinate King Xerxes. But Mordecai found out about the plot and told Queen Esther, who in turn reported it to the king, giving credit to Mordecai. And when the report was investigated and found to be true, the two officials were hanged on a gallows. All this was recorded in the book of the annals in the presence of the king.
The book of Esther does not portray king Xerxes in a particularly positive light, and yet Mordecai still sees it as his duty to act in the king’s best interests. Of course we could be cynical and decide that Mordecai reported the plot for his own advancement, or even for Esther’s protection, but nevertheless this is still a good example of Mordecai acting in accordance with Jeremiah’s instructions:
seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper." (Jer 29:7 ESV)
The New Testament also teaches that even though we are citizens of heaven (Phil 3:20), we are still to be good citizens of the earthly kingdom we are part of. We’re called to pray for our leaders (1 Tim 2:1-2) as well as submit to them (Rom 13:1). In the workplace, we are expected to be fully committed to whatever it is that we have been given to do (Col 3:23). We are to seek to do good to not only those inside, but also those outside the church (Gal 6:10).
Despite this strong strand of teaching that encourages loyalty and submission to the human rulers of your land, many evangelicals are emphasising the “politically subversive” nature of the gospel, and in particular the teaching of Jesus. If Jesus is Lord, then Caesar isn’t (N T Wright on “God and Caesar”). How do we hold these two seemingly conflicting ideas in tension?
My own thoughts are that in every generation there are indeed issues of justice that challenge us to be politically subversive, but in all other respects, and wherever possible, we should seek to be good citizens of the nation we are in, and to be a blessing working within the existing structures rather than always fighting against them.
So Christians have to pick their battles wisely. The first century believers were never likely to overthrow slavery in the Roman empire – it was too deeply entrenched. Instead they focused on helping those caught up in the system to live in a way that honoured God. However, the time did come for believers like Wilberforce to take on slavery and seek to change the law to be more God honouring.
What do you think? How does a Christian find the right balance in this area? And what are the areas in which we should be dare to be “politically subversive” in our own day?