For those of you who know me well, you know that the topic of the State, or Politics, is my specialty as far as my academic training is concerned. However it’s quite a different picture when contrasting The State from the angle of a liberal university education versus what we’re able to obtain about God’s purpose and view of the State in the Bible.
Let’s define some terms so we’re clear about the conversation topic. I prefer to use the Webster’s Dictionary definitions from the 1800’s because its pre-political correctness, and before the trendy historical revisionism of our day.
Webster defines Politics as: “The science of government; that part of ethics which consists in the regulation and government of a nation or state, for the preservation of its safety, peace and prosperity; comprehending the defense of its existence and rights against foreign control or conquest…and the protection of its citizens in their rights, with the preservation and improvement of their morals.” Webster, 1828
Out the gate, it’s interesting that although it is highly argued in this day-in-age that the State should have nothing to do with the regulation of ethics or morals in our country, doing so was in the original definition of politics for America. Part of that was an effort to further improve our morals. Most today say that the state should have no interest in morals. However there is no way to avoid issues of morality when we are talking about the governing systems in place because any system whose chief aim has to do with governing the behavior of people, will deal with behavior regulation systems and the treatment thereof.
In trying to understand this sphere that God has designed is to ask boundary questions regarding the original intent and purpose for the State from God’s perspective. Think for example in terms of stealing, because as we know, ‘stealing’ implies ownership of property which we deal with all of the time. Most of us are morally convinced that stealing in general is wrong, and that’s why the Sate has regulatory details concerning this issue. God delivered the ethical notion of stealing, and as we know He has a lot to say bout it in the Bible. So the ethical question is, is it possible in this sphere dealing with the State, to steal? And if so, all of a sudden issues of ethics and morality have everything to do with the State. Let’s assess.
For our purposes and for examples’ sake, we bring the question before God: Is stealing wrong?
There is an old story that helps paint the picture of the real questions at hand.
There were two farmers who died in an unsuspected accident. They had a beautiful, abundant, well-producing farm. Upon their death, a group of people came to steal half of what they had on their property. This story isn’t so far from home- we see this occur when tragedy strikes all of the time, the looting of businesses and homes that takes advantage of suffering and disaster.
So here’s the thing:
Does it matter that they stole it if they have a reason for taking their stuff?
They needed the money. Is that still stealing?
What if it was the governor who actually took the property upon their accidental deaths? What if that same governor passed a law that said that he could do that, that it was within his rights or obligation to.
Would it shock you to know that we do, in fact, have a law like that; to take half of a dead man’s property.
These are serious questions to ponder, and although there’s always plenty of opinion in these matters, it’s important for followers of Jesus to dissect issues applying to the State in terms of what God has to say as the starting point.
What does God have to say about it?
In 1 Kings 21 is a story of a King who took the property, a vineyard, of an individual who was killed. Here’s how the story goes:
21:1 “Some time later there was an incident involving a vineyard belonging to Naboth the Jezreelite. The vineyard was in Jezreel, close to the palace of Ahab King of Samaria. 2 Ahab said to Naboth, “Let me have your vineyard to use for a vegetable garden, since it is close to my palace. In exchange I will give you a better vineyard or, if you prefer, I will pay you whatever it is worth.”
3 But Naboth replied, “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my ancestors.”
4 So Ahab went home, sullen and angry because Naboth the Jezreelite had said, “I will not give you the inheritance of my ancestors.” He lay on his bed sulking and refused to eat.
5 His wife Jezebel came in and asked him, “Why are you so sullen? Why won’t you eat?”
6 He answered her, “Because I said to Naboth the Jezreelite, ‘Sell me your vineyard; or if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard in its place.’ But he said, ‘I will not give you my vineyard.’”
7 Jezebel his wife said, “Is this how you act as king over Israel? Get up and eat! Cheer up. I’ll get you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”
8 So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name, placed his seal on them, and sent them to the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth’s city with him. 9 In those letters she wrote:
“Proclaim a day of fasting and seat Naboth in a prominent place among the people. 10 But seat two scoundrels opposite him and have them bring charges that he has cursed both God and the king. Then take him out and stone him to death.”
11 So the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth’s city did as Jezebel directed in the letters she had written to them. 12 They proclaimed a fast and seated Naboth in a prominent place among the people. 13 Then two scoundrels came and sat opposite him and brought charges against Naboth before the people, saying, “Naboth has cursed both God and the king.” So they took him outside the city and stoned him to death. 14 Then they sent word to Jezebel: “Naboth has been stoned to death.”
15 As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned to death, she said to Ahab, “Get up and take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite that he refused to sell you. He is no longer alive, but dead.” 16 When Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, he got up and went down to take possession of Naboth’s vineyard.
So. First, let’s answer the question, “Can the State steal?” The answer is yes, both then and now. Okay, so How did God view this and how did He deal with it?
God saw it as murder, and He saw it as theft. Let’s read the response from God:
17 Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: 18 “Go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who rules in Samaria. He is now in Naboth’s vineyard, where he has gone to take possession of it. 19 Say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Have you not murdered a man and seized his property?’ Then say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: In the place where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, dogs will lick up your blood—yes, yours!’”
20 Ahab said to Elijah, “So you have found me, my enemy!”
“I have found you,” he answered, “because you have sold yourself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord. 21 He says, ‘I am going to bring disaster on you. I will wipe out your descendants and cut off from Ahab every last male in Israel—slave or free.[a] 22 I will make your house like that of Jeroboam son of Nebat and that of Baasha son of Ahijah, because you have aroused my anger and have caused Israel to sin.’
To drive the point home of how God holds those in authority to a greater degree of judgment, let’s briefly look at a couple examples of Kings in the Bible and how their behavior rendered a response from God.
King Nebuchadnezzar who was the King of Babylon in Daniel 4 wrote about his own experience with God as it related to His approach as King.
4:1 King Nebuchadnezzar, To the nations and peoples of every language, who live in all the earth: May you prosper greatly!
Daniel 4:2 It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me…
I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at home in my palace, contented and prosperous. 5 I had a dream that made me afraid. As I was lying in bed, the images and visions that passed through my mind terrified me. 6 So I commanded that all the wise men of Babylon be brought before me to interpret the dream for me.
7 When the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners came, I told them the dream, but they could not interpret it for me. 8 Finally, Daniel came into my presence and I told him the dream. (He is called Belteshazzar, after the name of my god, and the spirit of the holy gods is in him.)
9 I said, “Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in you, and no mystery is too difficult for you. Here is my dream; interpret it for me. 10 These are the visions I saw while lying in bed: I looked, and there before me stood a tree in the middle of the land. Its height was enormous.
11 The tree grew large and strong and its top touched the sky; it was visible to the ends of the earth. 12 Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant, and on it was food for all. Under it the wild animals found shelter, and the birds lived in its branches; from it every creature was fed.
13 “In the visions I saw while lying in bed, I looked, and there before me was a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven. 14 He called in a loud voice: ‘Cut down the tree and trim off its branches; strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the animals flee from under it and the birds from its branches. 15 But let the stump and its roots, bound with iron and bronze, remain in the ground, in the grass of the field.
“‘Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him live with the animals among the plants of the earth. 16 Let his mind be changed from that of a man and let him be given the mind of an animal, till seven times[d] pass by for him.
17 “‘The decision is announced by messengers, the holy ones declare the verdict, so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of people.’
18 “This is the dream that I, King Nebuchadnezzar, had. Now, Belteshazzar, tell me what it means, for none of the wise men in my kingdom can interpret it for me. But you can, because the spirit of the holy gods is in you.”
Daniel Interprets the Dream
19 Then Daniel (also called Belteshazzar) was greatly perplexed for a time, and his thoughts terrified him. So the king said, “Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its meaning alarm you.”
Belteshazzar answered, “My lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies and its meaning to your adversaries! 20 The tree you saw, which grew large and strong, with its top touching the sky, visible to the whole earth, 21 with beautiful leaves and abundant fruit, providing food for all, giving shelter to the wild animals, and having nesting places in its branches for the birds— 22 Your Majesty, you are that tree! You have become great and strong; your greatness has grown until it reaches the sky, and your dominion extends to distant parts of the earth.
23 “Your Majesty saw a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven and saying, ‘Cut down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump, bound with iron and bronze, in the grass of the field, while its roots remain in the ground. Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven; let him live with the wild animals, until seven times pass by for him.’
24 “This is the interpretation, Your Majesty, and this is the decree the Most High has issued against my lord the king: 25 You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox and be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.
26 The command to leave the stump of the tree with its roots means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules. 27 Therefore, Your Majesty, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.”
The Dream Is Fulfilled
28 All this happened to King Nebuchadnezzar. 29 Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30 he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”
31 Even as the words were on his lips, a voice came from heaven, “This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. 32 You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.”
33 Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.
34 At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever.
His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation… 36 At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honor and splendor were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before. 37
Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.
What’s the Takeaway
What we are interested in here is to understand what design God has implemented into this social system. Clearly God takes the oppression of the weak by the governing rulers incredibly seriously, and that should be comforting as we see so much of this all around the world. Even if the veracity of this particular scripture were in question or its authoritative nature, in Jesus’s life itself He makes clear his stance on the oppressive nature and tendency of governing authorities.
Proverbs 16 says,
“The mind of man plans his ways, but the Lord directs his steps. He changes times and seasons, He sets up kings and deposes them.”
In the most original context as stated above, God has placed himself in this sphere of the State, because this sphere can become the most terrible monster of all. Can we all agree on that?
We as free people want less authority because we like the idea of freedom, but the cost of that is always a high price. When our freedom reveals to us that people aren’t in fact capable of governing themselves well, then more government is demanded but is resented at the same time. It’s constantly hanging somewhere in the balance of the two. And this is exactly why in those stories in the Bible, as examples, why God continues to remind the king(s) that he is subject to God.
In this sphere, God’s obvious original desire was to have the “King”, the people, and God all within relationship to each other and operating in proper order. This mirrors again the trinity, and if we believe scripture that God actually files the various authorities in their place, then it leaves us with that conclusion if we keep God’s nature in the forefront of design.
WHY DID ISRAEL ASK FOR A KING?
In 1 Samuel 8
They asked for a king because their leadership was corrupt. The previous form of government back then was the Judges, but they wanted to do away with that form, and they wanted a monarchy because of the corruptness of the Judges.
“…They (the Judges) turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.” 1 Sam 8:2
God essentially says, ok I will give you another form (because as scripture shows us, He works within our humanity and our capacity even though it is flawed), but I want you to know what that will look like: The king will take your sons and make him serve with his chariots and horses. He will demand from you what is actually God’s. He will take a tenth of your grain and redistribute it, and you yourselves will become his slaves. Let’s read the account:
10 “Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers.
14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle[c] and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”
21 When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the Lord. 22 The Lord answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”
This is interesting statement by God, who is warning what this government will become. He says that the new form of government will take the best, your first fruits, who will take your wealth and redistribute it to others, and that you will become slaves.
So, is the King sovereign over every other sphere? Is the state sovereign over the other institutions? That is a HUGE question that we cal “Sphere Sovereignty.”
If God created each sphere for a purpose, the roles and responsibilities and why they exist, that means that these spheres are sovereign in that purpose, and in their sphere for what they are created to do.
What does it mean for a King to assume he has authority over another?
THE DESIGN OF THE STATE, THE DELEGATION OF AUTHORITY
ROMANS 13:1-6 says, “EVERYONE must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that with which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.
Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.
Do you want to be free from fear? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For the one in authority is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is Gods servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.
Therefore it is necessary to submit to authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are Gods servants, who give their full time to governing.”
What we can take from this outside of the obvious implication to respect authority, is that God’s design was for the king to be first a servant of God, and for that servant nature to trickle down as a good service for the people, “to do you good.”
We quite obviously understand that this is not always how this works. Just as in all other spheres, the presence of sin and the perpetual battle of the will of man against God, things like authority get tainted and fall short of their original intent and design. We see so evidently in our own society the ramifications of authority that has no Biblical moral bearing and how it affects society as a whole. But as followers of Jesus, we have to decide based on our own understandings of scripture and the authority of God in our lives, how to obey God in the midst of even the most corrupt and self-seeking governments. It would be a mistake to view ourselves as unique in America’s current climate, or to view ourselves as oppressed spiritually simply because we live in a post-christian society. Recall Daniel’s incredible positioning and his faithful posture right in the middle of corruption, exile, and in total opposition to the Holy God. God works right in the middle of the chaos. This simply means that we have purposeful work to do.
In order to work this all out in precision and thoroughness, we have to talk about the delegation of authority properly in the original design.
In order to do that we have to go to our source of truth: How does the triune relationship (God + man + the State) work when it comes to delegation of authority? Our answer is (always) bound up in the triune nature of God.
John 17:1-2 says, “After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your son, that your own may glorify you. FOR YOU GRANTED HIM AUTHORITY over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.” (delegation)
1 Corinthians 15:24 & 27 “Then goes the end, when Christ delivers the kingdom to God the Father…For “God has put all things in subjection under His feet.”
God is a great delegator of authority.
Subjection to Authority:
Again, where does this occur in the Triune Nature of God, as our source of truth?
1 CORINTHIANS 15:28 says, “When He has done this, then the son himself will be made subject to Him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.”
In this design or this biblical model, people are subject to their rulers just as Christ is subject to the Father, and we (The Church) are subject to Christ as our authority. If God then establishes (or “files them” as the original text can be translated) Kings and the authorities as Romans 13 says, AND asks us to honor that order and positioning, it is our job to obey Christ as He obeys His Father. As we saw in Romans, in the same way that wives are subject to their husbands, this is the echo of that divine order of authority and relationship. This is not a negative tone and if you see it that way I encourage you to dig deeper on the original language of the text. All that this means is that our duty is to HONOR them; to respect their place and our relationship to them.
The Purpose of the State
Romans 13 says that ‘the purpose of civil authority is to punish evil; to condone that which is good.’
(Be weary of blurring spheres when reading below)
In Romans 12 it says this. “Do not repay evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘If you enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him something to drink.’ In doing this, you will heap up burning coals upon his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
God’s word says that you are not to take revenge, but leave room for Gods wrath…
But then Romans 13 says it is the purpose of civil authority to punish evil and to condone what is good. So what does this say about civil majesty?
That the King is a servant of Him (God).
You and I who are not civil authority, we are told not to take revenge, leaving room for Gods wrath. An agent of civil authority who is the agent of gods wrath is he, “Who does not bear the sword for nothing.”
If God has delegated the sword to the king to punish evil, this is why this sphere can become the most monstrous of spheres if it is unchecked.
Why do policemen wear uniforms? Or wear badges? Or take an oath of office?
The policeman cannot bear the sword unless he/she has been delegated the proper authority. The outward uniform, badge etc signifies the proper delegation of authority “to bear the sword.”
In order to punish evil + condone what is good, this IMPLIES TO US that authority better know what is good and what is evil. (Ethics, morals)
The problem then arises that if there is not a standard that exists throughout all generations for all of time for what is good and what is evil, the standard then will be whatever benefits the ‘King,’ or left to the whims of current culture which changes as quickly as the wind. The Basis of civil authority is based on law, which is based on an ethical notion of what is right and what is wrong.
This begs the question then, whose law is it, and where does that law come from? If the State says that IT is the source of the ethical norm, we have a problem because the State bears the sword. For this reason, the atrocities committed by this sphere are astronomical.
When Nietzsche popularized, “God is dead,” and Darwin’s Evolution of Species became mainstream, it set a brand new tone for our culture with deep philosophical ramifications. We got to where we are today all across the world by killing God; then by killing ethics; then by killing man. We need to bear in mind that from the time of Constantine, after his supposed conversion, when the church got in bed with the State, the deadly implication is the same precisely because these spheres got blurred, so we need to nail this down as followers of Christ. For now however, let’s talk about the bloodiest century in our most recent history.
Death by the State:
Joseph Stalin: 42,672,000
Mao Tse-tung: 37,828,000
Adolf Hitler: 20,946,000
Chiang Kai Shek 10,214,000
Vladimir Lenin : 4,017,000
Hideki Tojo: 3,990,000
Pol Pot: 2,397,000
Burned, murdered, buried.
They come from this sphere, at the hand of the State with a disconnected view of God and life. This is the key.
(Suggested read: RJ RUMMEL “Death by Government”)
Ideas do have consequences.
“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” -Voltaire
This is what is possible in a sphere with so much power when you disconnect yourself from any kind of absolute truth. If truth is dead, there is only manipulation.
The state all on its own creates an incredible plethora of pathologies in this sphere, and as a result, we end up with mass graves and all sorts of other atrocities. I understand this is multi-faceted in nature, but the foundation that denies a fundamental understanding of good and evil resorts to whatever benefits the most powerful at the expense of all else.
In the Bible, when the king becomes powerful and believes he can rule over any other sphere he wants, God sends a warning.
The Rise of the State
Why is there evil? (Back to the ‘Who is man and ‘Why is there evil,’ by Carl Rogers)
“…Experience leads me to believe that it is cultural influences which are the major factors in our evil behaviors.” Carl Rogers
Hmm. Maybe, Carl. Let’s keep going.
A Humanistic view of man is that we are basically good, and perfectible. Mental health can be obtained by self-actualization, and that the institutions are responsible for man’s actions and particularly for our pathologies.
Here’s the Biblical objection to this idea that has incredible implications:
As soon as the State believes it has the right and the obligation (if the other institutions are the problems), we will invest power in this institution (the State) in order to get control over those institutions that are causing trouble/evil in society.
The State then will rise in power and to think that it does have the right to breech the sovereign boundaries of each of those spheres. Then the sovereignty is gone and we have the rise of the State, which observes no sovereignty but assumes that it has the right to absorb all institutions under its control and power.
What is the problem with that?
Frankly I know plenty of people personally that are so trusting in the State and the system, that they would gladly hand over all authority to the State in order to bring all the other institutions under its control. Literally people crying out for communism, socialism, and marxism, and it is mind boggling how that seems like a solution to the issues in our society. This idea comes in the name of gun control and plenty of other claims in the name of social justice. Again, this is the culmination of when the spheres are blurred.
The Great Issue:
The problem with this is that we have an ethical problem because we (our society) want to get rid of objective reality and objective truth. Then, ‘I’ can live however I want to live. The problem is God, then. When the State rises to power, His ethical notions then become the problem instead of the standard. What the world does not understand is that you can’t remove God from the world He created. But the State can certainly act as if he is no longer there, and then we view the state different and it acts differently accordingly. Just as we do in present time.
“The universe is to be found in the state…The State is the divine idea as it exists on earth… We must therefore worship the State as the manifestation of the divine on earth, and consider that, if it is difficult to comprehend nature, it is harder to grasp the essence of the State… The State is the march of God through the World.” Cited in “Idols for Destruction”
With this view, the State answers all our problems and the State becomes God.
By implication, it will determine what occurs for education, determines who is poor and the prescription for it, who has needs, what are fair wages, the ethics, marriage & family, regulates the church, regulates community, and controls the sphere of labor etc. This is exactly how we operate today, and you see it so obviously in the protest culture of our generation who actually believes all wrongs can be made right by the State.
What is happening to the family as a result of the rise of the State?
There is more to dissect here than there is even space for at this time. The baseline is that the State creates the culmination of the kinds of programs that invite men out of the home, that provide everything that pulls women away from the family. What that means in the grander scheme is evident in an ever-growing list of culturally devastating statistics that all speak to the same truth that families are disintegrating and that is on a spectrum of quality. If we begin to think (as God’s people) that the State will provide for me and for all, we change the original design, and we look to the state as our savior, to care for us.
Social disorder and the decline of a culture throughout history have been marked by several common attributes. Five attributes to be precise that marked Rome at its end, and that are easily symmetrical with the trajectory of the United States. As Edward Gibbon assesses in “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” these are the 5 similarities for us to consider.
A mounting love for show and luxury.
An obsession with sex
Freakishness in the arts Masquerading as originality and enthusiasm pretending to be creativity
Increased desire to live off the State.
It would serve us all well to bear in mind the implications of our ideas. Our ideas give legs and language to actual paths we walk and create for ourselves. I encourage any of my readers to do their own work in this subject field to assess for themselves what exactly the Lord is leading them to understand with regard to our relationships with God and with the State.