Government issues should take God’s opinion into account

With the confirmation of a Bible-believing Christian like John Ashcroft as Attorney General in the news, it is important to understand the relevance of God and His word to law and government.  To understand the relevance of God to government it is helpful to consider a line of questioning proposed by Dr. John Eidsmoe.  First, “Does God exist?”  Most Americans would agree that God exists and certainly Christians believe this.  Next, “Does God know what’s happening on earth?”  I doubt that any would argue that God does not know what’s happening on earth.  Third, “Does God have moral convictions about what happens on earth?”  Again, few would argue that God is not concerned about what is happening “down here.”  Fourth, “Does God communicate those convictions to us?”  Perhaps some would say that he does not but, again, most would agree that God communicates those convictions to us.  Certainly Christians could agree that he communicates these convictions through the Bible.

Hence, by following this line of reasoning, it should become clear that the Bible is relevant to everything going on and this includes law and government.  Furthermore, not only is the Bible relevant, but also it has a lot to say, whether in precept or principle, about government, law, crime, politics, etc.  That is, there are certain issues in which the Bible is very clear: "Do not steal."  Many other issues are addressed in principle in the Scripture.  For example, the Bible does not say directly what Georgia's state flag should look like, but it does mention the topics of slavery, freedom, honor, and respect for others whether living or killed on a battlefield of the Civil War.  Thus, any issue should be dealt with in light of what God's opinion is about it and the way we know that is by what He has revealed to us through the Scripture.

Sir Willam Blackstone, one of the most quoted thinkers by the Founding Fathers, defined law as a rule of conduct backed by governmental authority, commanding what is right and forbidding what is wrong.  Any law, therefore, is based on some higher standard, whether the standard is the Scripture or the standard is "whatever seems right in the eyes of men."  The standard that we decide to apply depends greatly upon our view of human nature.  James Madison in the Federalists Papers wrote, "What is government itself but the greatest of all reflections of human nature?"  If we believe that God created man "very good" and that man possesses a sinful nature then this will affect our view of government and law.  For example, since the Founding Fathers believed man to be basically evil and self-interested they established a government of checks and balances recognizing that rulers cannot be trusted with absolute power.  Thomas Jefferson understood that it was necessary to "bind them down with the chains of the Constitution."

On the other hand, if someone believes man is basically good and that human nature is improving, then that would affect all areas of law and government.  For example, he would see little need for strict criminal laws since people are basically good.  He would also trust the good intentions of our government's rulers and would not see a need to impose restraints.

It is also important to understand that civil government is ordained and established by God.  This is seen as early as the Noahic covenant in Genesis 9:6, "Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God he made man." This "everlasting covenant" still applies today.  John Eidsmoe in his book God and Caesar explains, "By holding before men the threat of temporal punishment, government can hold man's sin nature in check and compel man to refrain from criminal acts.  But that is all government can do.  Government can only restrain sin and promote civil righteousness--and that with only partial success.  Government cannot eradicate the sin nature or cleanse men from their sins.  Only the finished work of Jesus Christ on Calvary's cross can do that."

Romans 13:1-7 further explains that civil rulers have authority to punish evildoers and avenge crimes.  However, the same power that grants this authority to government also limits its authority.  The basic purpose of government is to restrain human sin.  Since "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," (Romans 3:23) rulers are sinful and system of government must be mindful of that.

Certainly no one is saved by the political process but it is also true that God is concerned about what happens in politics.  (Incidentally, those Christians who fail to preach or consider the role of God's word in politics are simply not preaching the whole council of God.)  Thus, one must be aware of the relevance of God in law and government in order to understand the times.  God is certainly not a member of any political party, but He has given civil government certain limited authority and He has definite opinions about the issues and He expresses these opinions in His word.

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©Tom Carpenter
Originally published in the Rockdale/Newton Citizen