First, let’s look at the text in question:

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.
Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.
(Romans 13:1-2)

We typically view Romans 13 (when looking at it from an American standpoint) as Paul instructing us to obey the laws of the land (where they do not conflict with the Law of God, obviously). We also use it to remind ourselves that, ultimately, the ruler we have is the ruler God providentially gives us.

I don’t think anyone would argue with that idea, but I wanted to suggest that maybe we don’t take it far enough.

Because the real “ruler” of the USA is not the President, or the Congress, or the Supreme Court, whose office-holders are elected and appointed and change over the years. Yes, I believe the Providence of God has a hand in all of that, but still those people are not that which “has the rule over” us, as Paul speaks of.

What is?

If it’s anything, wouldn’t it be the Constitution? Now, you might say “we the people” are the rulers, but this being a republic, we the people elect people to lead, etc, and we do so (and they lead us) through the framework and limitations provided by the Constitution.

The Constitution is the good cop to the Declaration of Independence’s bad cop.

Basically it’s the government’s promise to the people, written by the people* that the government (not the people) will behave and follow the rules. So long as it does, the scary old bad cop doesn’t have to come back out, guns a’blazing, watering the tree of liberty with blood as Jefferson warned.

That’s what so amazing about the founders of this country: They created a system of government that forces people to hold it (government) accountable.

*The founding fathers could have made themselves a conglomeration of tyrants ruling over the colonies. Instead, those enlightened idealists and dreamers decided simply to be people the same as the rest, and really and truly to let the people govern themselves. Then they wrote a document that was designed to be the absolute law of the land, whose purpose was not to list the rules and prohibitions imposed upon the people to ensure obedience to government, but rather the rules and prohibitions imposed on the government to ensure freedom of the people.

That’s amazing. It wasn’t perfect, we all know that, but as an ideal, it’s amazing.

Yet as Adams said, the Constitution is only good if the government and people are God-fearing. Godless people can’t make use of such a Constitution. They will abuse it and ruin it, and the republic with it.

So, while it’s right and good to pray for leaders such as governors, presidents, congressmen, etc, I think we should look at the bigger picture, and consider that maybe, if we’re going to pray for our nation and the “ruler” God has put over it, we should pray for the Constitution, and that we the people will remain God-fearing enough to make having such a document possible, lest we as a nation reject the God who gave us that document as our ruler in the first place (Romans 13).

~ Matthew