God is a Righteous Ruler

If you’ve been following my series on alliterative names for God, you will note that I skipped over the letter Q. I really didn’t spend much time racking my brains for an idea (though I did look through words starting with the letter Q to see if there was a good idea that had eluded me). I could say that God is a Quiet Questioner, thinking of His question to Elijah in 1 Kings 19:13. But I think sometimes God asks questions loudly. In Genesis 3, when God called out, “Where are you?” I doubt He said it quietly.

I jotted down Quintessence, and I also thought of Qualified and Quotable. But I wanted a quality idea, not something I shoehorned into a post just to fill out the alphabet. So I quickly went on the next letter, which offered a much higher quantity of quite usable words.

God is real, God is radiant, God is our Redeemer and our Refuge. But I picked Righteous Ruler, in part because I was trying, as much as possible, to use phrases that could be tied to verses in Scripture. Isaiah 9:7 says “He will reign … with justice and righteousness.” (OK, so reign and ruler are not the same word – but reign comes from Latin regnum, and ruler from Latin regula, which I would guess are fairly closely related.)

We usually quote Isaiah 9:6-7 at Christmastime.

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.

The child was born over 2000 years ago. But the part about reigning on David’s throne is taken by many Christians to be still in the future, during the Millennial reign of Christ.

I think of the Apostles Creed, which says that he “sits on the right hand of God.” I know that indicates his exalted position. Does it also indicate that he is currently reigning? I don’t know what the writers of the Creed (who were not the Apostles) had in mind when they included those words, but Scripture seems clear that Christ is already King over all, even if all do not currently recognize his Kingship.

“… and put everything under his feet.” In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (Heb 2:8-9)

This website argues that Jesus has been reigning as king since the church began on Pentecost.

As in Psalm 110, Jesus must rule at God’s right hand till all enemies are put under His feet. That will be completed when the last enemy is put under His feet, and that will happen when death is defeated at the resurrection. So Jesus must necessarily reign before His second coming, not beginning with the second coming!

I’m not going to try to get into a comparison of premillennialism, postmillennialism, and amillennialism, but I did find that the material I read arguing against premillennialism offered good Scriptural support that Christ is already reigning (and that the one verse in the Bible that mentions a thousand year reign is not particularly good support for premillennialism). To be fair, I don’t think premillennialists (among whose number I included myself back when I thought that all true Christians held that view) deny that Christ is reigning now, they simply don’t believe that the Scriptures that speak of his reign can yet be said to have been fulfilled.

And I also think that non-premillennialists (it’s not always clear to me which are postmillennialists and which are amillennialists) agree that the time is still future when “every knee will bow … and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” (Phil. 2:10-11)

So what does it mean to say that God reigns as a Righteous Ruler, right now? The Bible has a lot to say about how a righteous king rules. He does not take bribes or show favoritism, he defends the orphans and the widows, he has compassion on the poor and needy and saves the lives of the needy.

The Bible says that God does not show favoritism (Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11). But many people find it hard to reconcile that with the reality they observe. Why is one child born into grinding poverty in Haiti, and another in prosperity in the U.S.? Why is one born into a family that provides love, nurture, and a good education, while another is born to a family torn apart by drug addiction, sexual and physical abuse, or at best benign neglect?

We can say (and I believe) that God knows what He is doing and is working even through these disparate circumstances to bring about human redemption and His own glory. But we believe that in spite of the evidence we see around us, not because of it.

Others worry that the doctrine of election means God shows favoritism to those He has chosen for salvation. I found an interesting web page that discusses this, using the text of Acts 10:34-5 “Then Peter began to speak: ‘I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.’”

Note the distinction here: God accepts those who “fear him and do what is right” – so that acceptance is not the result of favoritism, but of merit in God’s service. Similarly, in the rest of the citations, the point is that men are not accepted or given special privileges based on their own “virtues”, but rather, in their attitudes towards God and the resultant behavior.

Election is another big theological discussion, like eschatology (the doctrine of end times) that I’m not going to try to get into here. What about those other aspect of righteous ruling, taking care of the widows and orphans and the needy? For the most part He takes care of them through the work of other people. Through the centuries, the Christian Church has done a great deal to help people in need, sometimes very visibly and other times much less so. But what about all those who were not helped, whether because some Christians turned a blind eye, or because they lived in places far away and their needs were unknown?

It seems that God has delegated the role of ruling over people to their fellow humans, and as a rule we humans mess things up pretty badly. There are a great many examples of individual people and groups doing wonderful work to help the poor and oppressed around the world. But it seems that the larger a group gets, the more it allows some people to be overlooked, and other people to get in positions of power that they use to their own advantage.

All that points to how much better things will be when Jesus Christ rules in person someday. In the meantime, is it only among His followers that He rules, as they seek to live as He commanded and be part of His Kingdom? Generally that is the impression I get from the non-premillennialists, that His Kingdom right now is expressed in the lives of those who voluntarily put themselves under His rule. It’s a rather different kind of a Kingdom, and a different kind of rule, where citizenship is only of those who choose to be ruled. Of course, that choice is also by (re)birth, but that’s getting back into the election issue again.

That fact is that whatever judgment God will impose on those who choose not to follow His laws seems to be in large part postponed. Many times people reap the good and bad consequences of their actions in this life, but not always. Is the promise/threat of reward/punishment on the other side of physical death enough to say that justice is being meted out? I am confident that the Risen Christ is living proof that life does not end at the grave, but the particulars of what happens after we die is largely a mystery.

I would like to be able to wrap up all these thoughts into a tidy package say, “There, that’s what it means for God to be a Righteous Ruler.” But for me there are as many questions as answers. I do believe God rules, now as well as for eternity. I believe He is righteous, and what He does is right whether or not a single one of us can understand it. But there is so much wrong in the world (and sometimes in the Church – the church I have attended for nearly five years just exercised church discipline on one of its leaders, who has caused great pain and grief to the other leaders and to all the congregation), that it gets hard to reconcile our faith in God’s Righteous Rule with what we see in the news, and sometimes in our own lives.

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