Today I saw a story showing on my social media that discussed the arrest of a husband and wife for female genital mutilation, a social custom quite popular in certain backwards areas of the world and with their refugee populations in the United States, apparently. In other news, my social media wall exploded with a great deal of ferocious political commentary concerning our current president’s crackdown on sanctuary cities who deliberately attempt to disregard federal laws against illegal immigration . I am not talking harsh new laws either, but the rather ineffective laws we already have on our books. The discourse on that latter issue fell under three different lines. Some people, of course, whined about xenophobia of our president and his administration. Others supported the crackdown as a necessary and proper enforcement of law and order, and still others decried any sort of use of government coercion to deal with problems of anarchy in the not unreasonable fear that left-wing administrations in the future would do the same to right-wing opposition to abortion and other forms of moral evil because they disagreed with such coercion on principle.
Both of these stories demonstrate a problem that has to be dealt with in any society. Do governments have the right of self-preservation? Does government have legitimacy as authority, even apart from the specific conduct of those authorities? I would argue, along with the apostle Paul, that authority did have legitimacy. Paul, we should remember, applied this principle most awkwardly to himself . The legitimacy of authority in the general case and the behavior of corrupt and fallen human authorities cannot be conflated together, but must be examined apart. I am not sure why it is that so many of the libertarians I know neglect this fact. These are people, by and large, who want to be viewed as authorities, at least in the sense of being people worthy of being listened to and accepted as authorities in terms of political discourse, but they rail against authority in general. Their behavior undercuts their own desires, as they show themselves inconsistent to their own principles and ambitions.
It might seem unfair that authorities are given a presumption of legitimacy. We know, after all, how authority can easily be abused, and how painful and destructive that abuse can be. Yet if we know ourselves, we will also realize that there is an automatic tendency for us to denigrate those authorities we disagree with. Any authority that acts against our own desires, regardless of how illegitimate those desires, is going to be seen by us as abusive or coercive. If one is standing apart from a situation, as a generally uninvolved third party, one can tell the difference between proper discipline and abuse. When one is involved in the situation, one is not generally so able to see things with a perspective that approaches impartiality. Since we cannot be just judges in our own causes, any authority that disagrees with us in any point is going to be considered by us as illegitimate, regardless of the facts of the matter. Yet at the same time many of us wish to be seen as authorities over others, unaware or uncaring of the fact that we do unto others what we detest being done to us. We think of ourselves as being fit for power and honor and influence and think of others as being unworthy of such things, and we often do not have enough regard for offices as such to separate the legitimacy of the office from the conduct of the officeholder.
After all, regimes and institutions only have legitimacy insofar as their offices are worthy of honor apart from whomever happens to hold them. We may have had fathers and mothers whom we thought particularly ill-suited for the authority given to them, but if our regard for the offices they held is high enough, we may aspire to be better fathers and mothers ourselves if we have the opportunity, and give proper honor to others for doing a difficult task, regardless of how poorly it was done in our own estimation. We may think a particular president ill-qualified for the office, but hope that a better one will be chosen next so that the dignity of the office will suffer no permanent harm. Because the authority of an office is apart from any sort of personal dignity held by those who are in such an office, we can see the private sins and failings of a person as not having any sort of permanent harm to the robes of office that they happen to temporarily wear. No one is irreplaceable in a position of honor and authority, not even ourselves, and separating offices from officeholders, and seeing offices as being worthy of respect and honor for the well-being of institutions and society even if we have a poor opinion of the people who often hold such authority is the only way that we can honor God and have a realistic understanding of the world in which we live.
After all, it is not as if our leaders are worse evildoers than the rest of us. We are all fallen beings. Any leaders we have will be fallen leaders. Some will be more corrupt than we are, some will be less corrupt, and many will be on the whole as corrupt but in different ways where both we and them could feel ourselves smugly to be superior based on our own biased perspectives. Are cities that disregard the enforcement of just laws worthy of sanctions? Absolutely. Are people who mutilate small children in order to obey barbarous customs rather than our own laws worthy of punishment? Without question. Are there any perfect authorities present under heaven in order to exercise such authority and to enforce justice? Not in the least. Does the absence of perfect authorities negate the legitimacy of those imperfect authorities we have to do the best job possible? Not at all. Even angels are a part of the government of God with their own hierarchies and their own system of authority under God. And if angels are a part of an ordered and structured realm, how can we humans resist the same, seeing as we require greater restraint against the evil tendencies within us?
 See, for example:
 See, for example: