The earth reels like a drunkard, it sways like a hut in the wind; so heavy upon it is the guilt of its rebellion that it falls—never to rise again. In that day the Lord will punish the powers in the heavens above and the kings on the earth below- Isaiah 20-21 NIV
In recent weeks, I have had some pretty intense internal debates regarding the topic of rebellion. Normally, I would dismiss those debates as nothing more than the strange musings of a woman who is inclined toward bouts of overthinking almost everything. However, conditions over the course of the last nine months or so have been anything but normal. Life has been radically altered, mostly not for the better. Many feel their elected leaders are not working for the good of those who elected them. As a result, discussion of rebellion has become increasingly more common even among serious Christians who would normally be more predisposed to pray for an authority figure than rebel against them (Romans 13, Titus 3:1, 1st Timothy 3;1-3, 1st Peter 2:13). All that has gotten me thinking about when, if ever, rebellion is defensible in the life of a believer.
God is categorically not a fan of rebellion. Nowhere in the Bible is rebellion presented in a positive light or as a good thing (Deuteronomy 13:5, Joshua 24:19, 2nd Thessalonians 2:3). In 1st Samuel 15:23 God equates rebellion with witchcraft. Witchcraft was and still is a serious sin. (Leviticus 19:26, Deuteronomy 18:10). Witchcraft was such an egregious sin that witches, witchcraft, sorcery and divination were not to be tolerated in any part of Hebrew society (2nd Chronicles 33:6, Micah 5:11-13). The apostle Paul restates the Old Testament prohibition against witchcraft calling it an “act of the flesh” and placing it in the same category of sins as hatred, idolatry, debauchery and orgies (Galatians 5:20). All that to say, when God equates any sin with the sin of witchcraft it is a big theological deal that deserves our full attention.
That being said.
God is also a God of justice. Nothing angers God more than when powerful people use their power to oppress, persecute or bully the powerless, poor or defenseless (Exodus 23:6, Isaiah 10:1-3, Malachi 3:5, Matthew 23:1-36). Injustice occurs when those in power intentionally behave in a way that causes harm to the less powerful. God’s people are called to bring about justice in every and all situations (Isaiah 1:17). One aspect of “doing justice” (Malachi 6:8) involves calling out, and even working to remove leaders who use their power for selfish ends or to hurt those who lack the power to protect themselves from the edicts of leaders who have become evil, self-serving and callous towards their fellow humans.
On the surface at least, rebellion and witchcraft appear to have little in common. Witchcraft is the act of soliciting, petitioning or manipulating evil spirits (servants of Satan) to achieve an end that benefits the person preforming the witchcraft. Rebellion, on the other hand, is an attitude of the heart, that may or may not end in an evil deed.
The story of king Saul indicates witchcraft and rebellion both involve and invite demonic activity into the life of both the witch and the rebellious person. Saul started well as a leader but he had a heart that was bent towards rebellion (1st Samuel 15). He eventually became demon possessed (1st Samuel 16:14-15, 1stSamuel 18:10). By the end of his life he was consulting a medium (witch) rather than God for wisdom (1stSamuel 28:3-19). He died by suicide. Someone who practices witchcraft is likely much more aware of the forces they are employing, while a rebellious person is likely ignorant of the demonic activity they have invited into their lives through the sinful attitudes of their heart. Witchcraft and rebellion are alike because both sins inevitably lead to spiritual strongholds that are very difficult to break (Mark 9:14-29)
We can assume it is categorically not acceptable or wise to for a Christian to embrace or even dabble around with the sin of rebellion. Rebellion invites demonic strongholds into one’s life and heart. No smart Christian wants any part of a demonic stronghold Those things are brutal. Trust me, I know.
Sometimes bringing about justice necessitates actively working against established power structures. Working to bring about justice can look a lot like rebellion when it goes against the prevailing power structures and sometimes a heart of rebellion can be wrapped up in cloak of righteousness. Humanity has a long history of using justice as a pretext for rebellion. It is not unusual for those who say they are liberating others from injustice to turn out to be far more corrupt than the leaders they worked to overthrow.
So, how does a Christian know if they are being rebellious or wanting to bring justice to an unjust situation?
It all comes down to the state your heart and the only one who can determine whether or not your heart is righteous or rebellious is you and it is absolutely critical to do that before they attack or undermine a prevailing power structure.
Our spiritual well-being literally depends on it.