Some classic Lutheran theology that is often overlooked or misunderstood describes how God rules in our world with two different hands.  With his left hand he rules the world through governments.  In this way he provides general order (peace) to the world by exerting external forces (laws) upon us.  Thus, Christians are called to be law-abiding citizens – for it is God who rules us through the laws of the land.  With his right hand, God rules the world through the Gospel of Jesus.  In this way he provides internal peace within believers by exerting the internal force of the Gospel in their hearts.   This force enters into us as the Spirit is at work in Word and Sacrament.
The founding Fathers of our country, while intentionally not defining who this god, or higher power, is, built our government upon the left hand of God.  We can see this in such things as the preamble to the Declaration of Independence (“all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights”) and in the phrase “in God we trust” as it is printed on our currency.  In a unique balancing act, the Declaration acknowledges that government gets its power from an unidentified god, and then the 1st Amendment clarifies the fact that it is not the government’s role or right to identify who this higher power is.
The Bible speaks of the left hand of God this way: “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.  Therefore, whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement. …  Because of this we also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.” (Romans 13.1-2, 6)
It is the right hand of God that Jesus talks to Pilot about when he says, “My kingdom is not of this world … For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth.  Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18.36-37) The picture may be a little clearer in what Jesus says to some Pharisees“The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, or will they say, ‘Look here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17.20-21) Jesus authorizes the administration of God’s right hand as he says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20.22-23)
When Jesus says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22.21) he acknowledges there is a tension between the two kingdoms.  Both kingdoms, though very different, are good and God-pleasing.  The tension remains manageable as long as each a) respects the other; b) stays within its proper boundaries; and c) remembers it is accountable to God.  Thus, it becomes the role of the church to speak out when a) there is a clear infringement of Church or State on the “turf” of the other; b) there is a clear, unambiguous Word of Scripture to follow; or c) it is required to defend the Gospel and our right to proclaim it properly.  Historically the three areas the Church has spoken out on are a) life issues; b) marriage, family, and sexuality issues; and c) religious liberty issues.
In this highly political and polarized time, it becomes all the more important for Christians to both understand the two hands that God uses to rule the world and recognize how we function in each.  Perhaps a simple little story can provide an illustration.  A convicted murderer hears the Gospel and comes to faith in prison, confesses his sin and asks for forgiveness.  Should the Christian pastor hearing this confession tell the convicted murderer that his sins are forgiven?  The answer is a clear and resounding YES – this is the right hand of God in action.  Should that same pastor then demand that the murderer be pardoned and released from prison?  Absolutely not – that is a decision to be made by those authorized by God’s left hand.
I rejoice that our God is a two-handed God, even as I often struggle to understand how he is at work in our world with his left hand.  I would much rather focus upon his justice as administered with his right hand.  Do you remember the woman who was caught in adultery and how Jesus administered “right-handed” justice to her?  He simply said, “Has no one condemned you?  Neither do I condemn you, from now on sin no more.” (John 8.10-11) As he speaks these same words to us, we receive “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4.7) through his right hand, no matter what is taking place with the other one.

Our Two-Handed God