Anarchy is usually considered to be the chaos that erupts at the lack of governmental authority in a society. However, anarchism—the theory that society is improved when people freely rule themselves apart from all laws—is touted as a worthy ideal by those who reject the necessity of governing authorities. When prevailing authorities have been overruled or removed, usually by force, anarchy results as every person becomes his or her own authority. We see examples of anarchy during riots, when police have been fought back and the crowd becomes a looting, destroying entity. While it may seem ideal for a society to operate without oversight, the reality is not so pretty because the heart of man is “evil continually” (Genesis 6:5; cf. Romans 3:10; Jeremiah 17:9).
Since the Garden of Eden, mankind has loved the idea of self-rule (Genesis 3:1–7). In fact, the motivation behind most sin is the insistence upon being one’s own god. We don’t want anyone else, including our Creator, to tell us what to do. We imagine that the throwing off of all restraints equals freedom and that, if left alone, we and our neighbors could peacefully coexist without enforcement of laws and standards. But this utopian dream has never proved true. Every society that has tried anarchism has ended in anarchy and disorder. Sinful man has come to believe that our need for governing authority is a flaw that needs correcting. Yet the Bible presents a different story.
God instituted law from the beginning of history (Genesis 2:16–17). Laws are merely boundaries that keep us safe and ensure human interactions are fair and honest. But boundaries must have consequences for violating them, or they are merely suggestions. Without consequences, opinions become the basis for rules, and we know that everyone has a different opinion. It is difficult enough for a group of friends to decide where to eat dinner. Far more difficult is the building of a civilization based upon varied opinions. From one person’s viewpoint, it is right to love our neighbors; from another’s, it is right to eat them. So whose viewpoint wins? The battle between opposing views can lead to anarchy.
Romans 13:1–7 tells us that God designed government, and one of its primary functions is to avoid anarchy. Along with that divine authority comes the power to enforce the decided boundaries. There were a few times in biblical history when anarchy was the order of the day, and “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6, ESV; cf. Deuteronomy 12:8). It never ended well. First came blatant idolatry, followed quickly by further lawlessness and the demolition of society. God had to rescue Israel from itself by sending a series of judges to keep the peace; later, He sent a succession of kings. When anarchy rules in a culture, that culture is easy prey for a more organized enemy to overthrow it.
God’s plan is not for us to live in anarchy or pursue anarchism. Though we may chafe at unjust laws and unwise lawmakers, we can still thank God for whatever system of government protects our freedoms and our lives. We are to do our best to live peacefully under that system (1 Timothy 2:2), pay our taxes (Matthew 22:21), get as involved in our local governments as we feel led to do, and pray for those in authority over us (1 Timothy 2:1–3). We should obey our authorities in all things, unless they require us to directly disobey God (Acts 5:29). Only then is civil disobedience in line with God’s Word.