(Originally written September 26, 2012)
We have come to recognize slavery as sinful and wicked. The Bible uses slavery as a metaphor for the human condition apart from Christ, and freedom to describe salvation (though admittedly, that freedom is at times described as slavery to Christ). Bondage is recognized by Scripture as an ill state of affairs, and liberty a positive good.
Yet in His Word God commands slaves to be obedient and subject to their masters. We’ve rejected the conclusion that this amounts to an endorsement of the practice of slavery, for the Bible also teaches that a worker is worthy of his wages.
But if not an endorsement, then what is the exhortation to be obedient under the yoke of slavery? In my opinion it is an expression of biblical pacifism: God will judge those who maintain the oppressive structures of society, and our role is not to rise up and assert our own rights, but to seek peace for the work of the Church, and trust God for the perfect outcome.
The Bible says that a slave should seek to become free if he has the opportunity, but clearly teaches that violent revolution or even disobedience are not the ways God calls us to effect positive change. I think it might be reasonable to draw similar conclusions regarding the Bible’s teaching about civil government.
To begin with, most of us are no longer subject to any human emperor or king, yet the passages of Scripture that speak of earthly kings have not lost their significance. Likewise, it seems, if human society were to progress toward greater liberty, more respect for rights and voluntary interaction, and less government intervention, this would in no way diminish the significance of God’s command to be subject to those authorities that exist.
It remains true to this day that God calls slaves to be obedient to their masters; it’s just that, thankfully, few of us are slaves nowadays. Can a similar conclusion be drawn for hypothetical citizens of a libertarian society in the future? I tend to think so.
But by the same token, this means that we are still bound by God’s law to be subject to the existing authorities, not to cause trouble for them, to obey them where they don’t contradict God’s law, to seek the peace of the Church, and to trust God for the results. But where the opportunity arises for us to gain, or even gradually increase, our freedom from government oppression, I believe we will have God’s blessing in proceeding to do so.