Thursday, March 25, 2010

What Civil Government Is For (Part 2)

In the first post we noted that human government is ordained by God, despite its manifold failings. Before we go on to discuss the reasons that God has ordained civil authority, we need to observe carefully three points which will give us the proper framework from which to understand and then properly respond to civil government.

For Christians, our ideas of government are rooted in God himself. It is true in this area, as it is everywhere, that what a man thinks when he thinks about God is the most important thing about him. Here are four brief points about God and their implications for civil government.
  • God is God, and no one else is God. He is the creator and sustainer of all things. He alone possesses ultimate authority. He is truly sovereign. This means that all human governments are provisional and accountable.
  • God is personal. He is not impersonal force or impersonal will. All of his perfections and graces are involved in his authority. This means, among other things, that authority relations are not only about power, neither are they only instruments for using others.
  • God is triune. This may well be one of the most fundamental Christian and biblical ideas for government, and it is unique to Christianity. It is the basis for a harmonious society in which love and justice join hands. It instantly destroys all totalitarian conceptions of government in which a single, undifferentiated, unassociated entity carries out the functions of governing alone.
  • God is revealed in Jesus Christ, the God-man. Jesus exercises his rule as one who is united with us and with our nature. He identifies with us in love for our eternal good. As the perfect expression of divine-human government, we can learn much from his example.
But in order to understand civil government, we must also understand God's created work, mankind. Here are a few crucial points to remember about man.
  • Mankind is God's image. He is like God and he represents God as he fills the earth and subdues it.
  • Mankind is sinful. Human government would be a reality even without sin in the world, as the previous point shows, but we can never forget that the men who compose governments and the men who are governed are sinful. This sin distorts and works to destroy all human relationships, and human governments are God's servants to punish evil doers.
  • Mankind is personal. He is a rational, moral, spiritual creature. He has a heart, mind, will, affections, and so forth. He is not merely a body. Human society is oriented to obtain goods which are not merely material, and any proper government must operate accordingly.
  • Mankind is communal. God created mankind as male and female, and from this arises all kinds of human community, beginning with the family. We should note well that there are many forms of community other than the state. But we should also note that the isolated individual man is never a sufficient basis for understanding human community.
  • Mankind is free. He has personal integrity and participates in God's activity.
  • Mankind is also finite. No man knows everything, or even close to everything. This includes the men who comprise civil government.
Now there is one more point to consider as we set the context for civil government. We have considered the main actors, God and man, but we must also understand the storyline, if you will. In brief, it is God's cosmic plan: creation, fall, redemption, consummation. We are living in the days after the resurrection of Jesus. All authority has been given to him. He is Lord, and all people ought to acknowledge him as such. Because of this, no state government can properly be called sovereign. All positive laws of all civil governments are subject to God's revealed truth. Human government is authorized by God but is never identical with God's reign. One implication of this on an international level is that law can be universal but merely human government cannot. All civil governments must deal with the fact that there is a coming kingdom of God and the resurrection of the dead.

Keep these broad points in mind as we move on next time to look just a little more in depth at human society and the reason for civil government.

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