A Higher Law

Remember the poster that hung on the walls of Christian coffee houses and crash-pads during the 1960s? Jesus was painted to look like Che Guevarra, underlined with the slogan, "Jesus the Revolutionary." Revolution and civil disobedience were big issues for young people in the sixties. What should a Christian do when the government is unjust? Is it ever right to disobey the law? And these questions are even more urgent today than they were back then. As our nation turns away from its Judeo-Christian roots, government policies are more and more likely to be hostile to biblical norms of justice. When the law of the land violates the law of God, should Christians disobey it? The answer is yes. The biblical teaching is that God has ordained certain earthly authorities--the family, the church, and the state--which we are commanded to respect and honor. But none of these structures has ultimate authority over our lives. Only God does. If an earthly power demands the kind of allegiance we owe to God alone, then Christians have not only the right but the duty to resist. We give to Caesar what is Caesar's, but we reserve for God what is God's. In New Testament times the apostles Peter and John were ordered to stop preaching about Jesus. Punish us if you must, they responded. But we will never stop preaching God's truth. In the first century, Christians were thrown to the lions over the same issue. And in modern times, totalitarian governments have persecuted the brethren for their allegiance to God's higher law. But the duty to disobey should never be taken lightly. Christians are justified in disobeying the civil law only when it contravenes a higher law. Civil disobedience should never stem from defiance to government but only from submission to God. Today many Christians wonder whether civil disobedience is justified when protesting abortion. Well, whether we like it or not, most abortion clinics are operating in accordance with the law. In principle, Christians may not break just laws (e.g., trespassing laws) in order to protest an unjust law. Historically, however, there has always been one exception to this rule: when a law must be broken in order to save a human life. Suppose, for example, you are driving by a field surrounded by a fence, with signs posted "No Trespassing." But in the field you see a child drowning in a pond. Are you justified in leaping over the fence to rescue the child? Of course you are. Protesting in front of an abortion clinic is the moral equivalent of saving the drowning child. Because it rescues someone from death, protest is justified even though it might break trespassing laws. Augustine once said, "An unjust law is no law at all." We might also say that a nation that operates by unjust laws is really no nation at all. It will pass away--as all injustice passes away. But we stand firm on what we know will never pass away: the word of God. Our allegiance is to the king who rules over all the temporal kingdoms of this world.


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary