Heavy Lies the Head

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“Heavy lies the head that wears the crown.” So Shakespeare empathised with kings. “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” I don’t know who coined that phrase, but I’m sure that describes how President Ramaphosa must feel.

Last week, the president made the very difficult decision to extend our lockdown for another two weeks. I honestly didn’t expect that. Considering the condition of our economy, I assumed that an extension was not a viable option. I was wrong. Apparently, I didn’t have all the facts behind my assumption. Apparently, I didn’t have all the information that was available to the president. And further, he didn’t consult me before announcing his decision. Apparently, President Ramaphosa has authority and responsibility that I don’t have. And, most apparently, God expects me to submit to the president’s decision (Romans 13:1–7). I’m doing that. You should as well.

I pray often for our president in these days. I cannot imagine the burden he carries. He is making decisions that affect some 56 million people. His decisions have long-ranging and long-lasting effects on the health and welfare of our entire nation. Consider this recent decision.

The president and his advisors not only need to weigh the economic implications concerning the extension of the lockdown, but they also need to consider the larger issue of saving of lives. For those who are biblically prolife advocates, we applaud his bigger picture perspective. In response to our president’s difficult decision, he has received both praise and criticism. I would imagine that, this past Thursday night, he went to bed thinking, “No matter what I decided, I would be criticised.” And he was right. Yes, heavy lies the head that wears the crown.

Human government is tasked with the safety and security of its peoples. I have made that argument for decades, especially when government has involved itself in areas where it ought not. The ever present state has been a problem throughout history. In fact, when Israel desired a king like all the other nations, Samuel warned them that it would lead to royal overreach to the detriment of the people (1 Samuel 8:4–18). Yet they persisted with their demand (vv. 19–22). God gave them their request and sent leanness to their souls.

Good governance, however, is a gift from God. Good governance is defined in Romans 13:1–7 as those who see themselves as ministers (literally, “servants”) of God and therefore servants for the welfare of the people they rule. They serve at God’s pleasure and therefore are required to govern according to his revealed mandate. They need to stay within their lane. But it’s a rather wide lane, for it includes those things that apply to the safety and security of their people. When it comes to responding to COVID-19, our government is driving well within its lane. And we should respect this.

It’s easy to criticise human leadership. Being fallen sinners themselves, there is plenty of opportunity to find fault. But when heading down that path we need to consider God’s word to us in Romans 13. We are to submit to or rulers.

Of course, we are entitled to our opinion about this or that decision. God never commands us to not disagree with our leaders. But he does command us to submit to them. Yes, I am aware that no man has a right to speak where God has already spoken. I am aware that, when government prohibits what God commands, or when government commands what God prohibits, we are to obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29). But that is not what we are facing with the lockdown. What God expects of us is to submit to our government.

The government has God’s authority to do what they are doing. Let that statement sink in.

We Christians are quick to criticise the government when they overreach. But we should put our hands over our mouths when they rule within their God-given mandate. We may not like the decision, but God expects us to submit, and we are to do so joyfully, trusting God for the outcome, for God is ultimately governing over all.

One of the biggest stumblingblocks to such submission is the fallacious, perniciously prevalent idea that we have to have all the information before we will submit to our leaders. That needs to stop. It especially needs to stop among Christians.

I don’t know what it will take to stop this, but perhaps serving a few years as a leader will suffice. The experience of living under persistent criticism will go a long way to toning down this destructive cynicism. Going to bed with a “heavy head”—matched by a heavy heart—will go a long way towards tempering the heated criticisms of one’s leaders. But there is something that should put an end to it even apart from experiencing leadership: namely, the clear command of God.

This issue of happily submitting to our leaders applies in all spheres, not only in the matter of human government. It applies in the home, where wives are to submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22–24) and where children are to submit to their parents (Ephesians 6:1–3). It applies in the workplace, where employees submit to their employers (Ephesians 6:5–9). It applies at school, where students submit to their teachers (an extension of Ephesians 6:1–3). And it equally applies to the church, where the congregation submits, not only to one another (Ephesians 5:21), but also to its leaders (Hebrews 13:17).

In none of these cases is submission qualified by, “Submit once you get all the information behind your leader’s decisions.” That is a whole different concept, a totally different word: agreement. We are never commanded to fully agree with those leading us. But we are commanded to submit to them.

I thank God for President Ramaphosa and our Minister of Heath, Dr Zweli Mkhize. I have no reason to doubt they are making the best judgements based on information they have—information I do not have. And though I may have my own opinions, nevertheless I am praying for them as they steer us during this lockdown. I’m sure they are aware of the criticisms of those who disagree with them. And I have no doubt that heavy lies the head that wears the crown. I am determined not to make it heavier.

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