I was living in New York during the “Hamilton” craze of 2015. At that time, it seemed you couldn’t go a full day without some mention of the musical or a sleeve-tugged urging that you just had to fork over the $400+ to see the show or else perish an unfulfilled life. You might think I’m joking, but “Hamilton” was an unparalleled cultural phenomenon at the time, sweeping New York City with the power of a mass hysteria. So when “Hamilton” the film became available to stream this past weekend on Disney Plus, I jumped at the chance to finally see what all the fuss was about.
Predictably, the 2020 reviews on “Hamilton” have mostly centered around the Founding Fathers’ history of slavery, what NBC’s Today calls the “original sin they [the musical] failed to adequately address.” Much could be said of the irony of a secular society that doesn’t believe in original sin appropriating biblical theology, but let’s put that issue aside for the purposes of this post and consider the underlying heart of “Hamilton”: rebellion.
Throughout the musical, King George III is portrayed as a jilted lover and gloating tyrant, someone not to be respected or obeyed but rather scorned. He’s a consistent object of ridicule, the comedic break in the drama of those we are to consider the true heroes of the story. Storytelling is powerful not only because it shapes the way we view events, but because it reveals the deeper subconscious of a culture. It’s a kind of chicken and egg scenario; art has the ability to both create and reflect the surrounding culture. And because we are so prone to the power of stories, we can find ourselves easy targets of emotional manipulation. It’s impossibly simple to give into the spirit of rebellion especially when the songs are so catchy. But as we’ve said time and time again on this blog, Christians have a duty to evaluate the world around them through a biblical lens. So how should we respond to government and authority in a way that is glorifying to God?
It’s often said that the United States is a country built on ideals, particularly those of democracy and liberty–both of which can easily become thematic arguments for throwing off or dismissing any authority one does not deem worthy due to actual or perceived inconsistencies with these ideals. And while I’m not seeking to get bogged down into historical discussions on the American Revolutionary War, I do feel it’s important to contrast the current American mindset with biblical teaching.
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.Romans 13:1, ESV
The American narrative is wholly focused on the individual and his or her autonomy. In theory, nothing and no one must infringe on this sacred person’s governing of his or her own life. Now we know in practice that we are subject to the laws of the land, but the rhetoric particularly on the libertarian right is a kind of war chant against anything (law or leader) the individual considers unjust by his or her own standards. As members of a democratic republic, we delude ourselves into believing we have control and authority as autonomous individuals. This mentality unfortunately permeates all other aspects of our lives, affecting the way we respond to the rebukes of church leaders, the discipline of parents, or the leadership of husbands. In short, Americans have a deep-seated authority problem. Compare this to biblical wisdom and how Christians are called to submit to authority. We submit because these rulers have been instituted by God and thus submitting to them demonstrates a submission to God as the One who is ultimately in control.
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.1 Peter 2:13-14, ESV
Please understand my argument is not that we should think King George the protagonist of the story. Instead, my concern is that the attitude that has permeated American culture from its foundation is one of rebellion in how we view and interact with authority. We seem to believe that we can choose to submit when we like the authority in power and engage in disobedience when we don’t. Peter obviously didn’t believe this since he was writing under the great persecution of Roman Emperor Nero (1 Peter 2). He also makes it explicit when he tells slaves to submit to even harsh masters in verses 18-19. Clearly, we are to disobey any authority who would command something sinful, anything that is opposed to what God has decreed, but political rebellion/revolution is not consistent with the Christian worldview.
A heart of defiance toward earthly authorities in actuality demonstrates one’s attitude toward God. In “Hamilton,” the mockery of King George is a perfect representation of this. Look at this silly despot. By making the authority ridiculous, we seek to justify our disobedience. Yet Christians should not delight in the ridicule of authority figures just as we would not delight in the ridicule of God. Our submission to earthly authorities reflects a proper understanding of who God is and a desire to serve Him. This is true when children submit to their parents, wives to their husbands, and subjects to their magistrates. Submission ultimately is the recognition that God is sovereign over all things.
As American Christians, we face extraordinarily little government persecution in comparison to other nations across the world. If we can’t rightly organize our thoughts and actions to maintain consistency with the Word of God now, how will we fare in harder times? Let us consider the example of Chinese Pastor Wang Yi who, when writing his declaration of faithful disobedience, understood the biblical theology of submission and sought to submit himself to the political authority of the Chinese Communist regime “as though submitting to the discipline and training of the Lord.” My prayer is that we too will have our priorities aligned with Scripture and not give in to a spirit of rebellion, a spirit that does not come from God but from the wickedness of man.
For a robust teaching on our duty as Christians: