Dominic Cummings has sparked national outcry as a result of his trip to Durham during lockdown. This has included strongly worded rebukes from several leading church of England bishops. Many have made significant sacrifices in obedience to government regulations, and the mood against Mr Cummings is therefore hardly surprising. Those with significant authority also have significant responsibility to act with integrity, and its right they are held to account.
However, it raises an important issue for Christians to consider, especially as the very clear ‘stay at home’ lockdown is replaced by a more ambiguous period: how should we respond personally to government regulation at this time, and how should we respond to others who follow that guidance rather differently to us?
The general population probably falls into roughly two camps. On the one hand, there are those who are happy to push and perhaps even break the boundaries of government guidance. They will naturally be more lenient towards others with the same approach. On the other hand, there are those who are quite rigorous in maintaining government advice, and perhaps naturally much less lenient to those who push the boundaries.
A Christian, however, is called to something that will look quite unusual. A Christian is called both to careful and respectful obedience to the authorities, and to an attitude of grace rather than judgement towards others.
The apostle Peter writes,
“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.” 1 Peter 2:13-14
The reason we submit to government advice is not that we deem it logical, or sensible, or personally convenient. But rather ‘for the Lord’s sake’. By submitting to human authorities we honour the Lord who has established human authorities for our good. In the current situation, that means believers are called to be model citizens, even when that is personally costly and unappealing.
Grace towards others
When we are being so careful to obey government advice, it can be very frustrating when others are not. It is frustrating and we feel the injustice of it.
However, following Christ empowers us to do something quite remarkable: to show an attitude of grace. Before pointing the finger at the speck in others, we first examine our own planks. And we temper our frustration with God’s own attitude of compassion:
“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished” Exodus 34:6-7
It’s right that the government and its advisors are held to account. But perhaps our bishops might have shown a little more grace in how they did that. For we are called to be Christ-like, and Jesus demonstrated God’s grace to the utmost, dying on the cross in the place of the guilty.
Ultimately, we are able to leave final justice in God’s hands, and can trust him with it.
For now, Christian believers can be those most unusual creatures: showing both respectful obedience to the authorities, and grace to those who behave differently to us.