Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Bible and governments

In light of Mr. Trump’s nascent presidency and the discussions it has unleashed about immigrants, I have been earnestly seeking to know the answer to one key question:  what does my God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob say about human government in the Bible?

The most complete example of God’s ideal for human government is found, of course, in his instructions to the young nation of Israel.

Arguably, God created Israel for two reasons: so that the Israelites may worship him (he said to the Pharaoh: “Let my people go so that they may go and worship me”) and so that to He may be known by all nations, including Israel.

Following the exodus, he gave three key commands to the national leaders: obey and worship Yahweh alone; do justice, with a special eye on the poor or powerless; and treat the foreigners among you very well. These commandments are repeated again and again throughout the Bible.

God also describes who should become leaders: men (women were not included) who are honest, competent, and fear God (and would therefore presumably obey and worship him alone and treat foreigners well).

God seems to apply those rules even to pagan nations.

Lest we err, Sodom was punished for, among other sins, a lack of attention to the poor, as found in Ezekiel 16, a particularly passage: "Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned: they did not help the poor and needy ... Therefore I did away with them." v. 49-50.

Still, most modern day governments are not theocracies. They do not exist to worship God and to make him known. So what does God require of them?

Apparently, not very much.

Romans 13 does provide some answers. It says that a governmental leader  “is God's servant for your good ... he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer.”

According to that passage, the government exists to punish those who would do harm, presumably to fellow human beings. And it is free to use force to achieve that objective.

So those who argue that government’s first and fundamental duty is to protect society are on solid ground. Punishing harmful behavior is the one governmental function cited in the New Testament, and punishing bad behavior facilitates peaceful co-existence within society, and good deeds.

Moreover, human government is expected to conduct administrative affairs, specifically census and taxation, and all under their control (not just citizens) must acquiesce. There is not much else that is mentioned, much less commanded.

Christians who argue against Mr. Trump’s actions on Biblical basis miss the mark, I believe, in as much as the American government is just a modern, secular institution, just like those of China, Uganda, or Australia.

So an initial question must first be answered: “how closely do we want the American government to reflect God’s ideal, e.g., Old Testament, model?”

Definitions before accusations.