As I write this, our federal and state legislatures are preparing to commence their new sessions for the term. Members of the various legislative bodies will enter these sessions with their plates full of bills that they hope to pass into laws. The same thing will occur at the county and city levels. At the same time, court cases will be decided, appealed, upheld, and overturned by judges and juries who will set legal precedents that will effectively become laws. By these processes, law after law will pile up on top of the already copious volumes of laws that have been enacted previously.
How will these legislators and judges decide what the law should be or should not be? Typically, they will cite the U.S. Constitution as the highest law of the land. Indeed, Article Six of the Constitution states:
This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.
With this principle in place, legislators and judges will appeal to the Constitution as their guide and theoretically assess proposed laws and cases in terms of their perceived constitutionality.
Unfortunately, this procedure for evaluating prospective laws fails to recognize the existence of a law that is higher than the Constitution. It is the law of God that governs all people in every nation regardless of what the laws of the land may be. There was a time in Europe and early America when the fact of God’s higher law was well recognized and the matter of lawmaking was actually considered as a science of investigating and discovering what His law was. The discovery of “natural law” (see Rom. 2:14-15) and the establishment of “common law” for all citizens were concepts that the framers of our Constitution understood very well, but these concepts have been mostly and willfully forgotten today.
If the framers of the Constitution respected the overriding jurisdiction of God’s higher law, then why didn’t they write it into the Constitution? We can only assume that it was an oversight due to the times in which the founding fathers of our nation lived. Respect for higher law or natural law was so universal in early America that it did not have to be stated. It was simply understood that man’s laws were subservient to God’s laws. This common belief and reliance in God’s higher law is evident in the founding fathers’ personal writings and even in the Declaration of Independence, which cited the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” It was probably inconceivable to the founding fathers that there would ever be a time that Americans would forget God to the extent that they would need the Constitution to remind them.
The truth is that any government’s authority to make laws and govern comes from God. Paul wrote that “there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God” (Rom. 13:1). It is for this reason that Christians are commanded to be in submission to the governing authorities (Rom. 13:1-5; 1Pet. 2:13-17). It is also for this reason that each nation’s governing authorities are bound by God to comply with His higher law. Governing authorities that recognize their duty before God will be well established, but those who shirk this duty and abuse their authority will be brought down. Every person entrusted with governing power should learn the lessons taught to Nebuchadnezzar, which are that “the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes,” that “it is Heaven that rules,” and that God “is able to humble those who walk in pride” (Dan. 4:26-27, 37).
Indeed, governing authorities are established by God, but there are times when they are in conflict with the higher law of God. In such times, it is imperative for men to adhere to the higher law in defiance of man’s law. The Lord said, “No man can serve two masters” (Matt. 6:24). Government can be served only to the extent that it submits to its role as a servant of God. History is filled with examples of godly civil disobedience against ungodly governments, such as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego (Dan. 3), Daniel (Dan. 6), the apostles (Acts 5:29 – “We must obey God rather than men”), and countless martyrs. This responsibility of righteous defiance was even recognized in an international court during the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals in 1946. The judges in that case stated, “The fact that the defendant acted pursuant to order of his government or of a superior shall not free him from responsibility.” Indeed, the first responsibility of all men is to the higher law of God.
It is a shame in our nation today that legislators have lost their connection with the higher law of God. No longer do they seek to discover the righteousness and truth of the higher law, but instead they wrangle about words and technicalities in the Constitution to justify what they want the law to be. Rather than discovering what is right and enforcing it as the law, they enact laws arbitrarily based upon their own political agendas. Regardless of our leaders’ mistakes, let us pray for them “so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1Tim. 2:1-2), and let us always comply with God’s higher law.
Stacey E. Durham
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