Human Government, Even a Good One, Confirms Human Depravity
A self-evident thesis
Don't you think? Reasonable statements taken out of context to make a man appear ridiculous, attacks on character rather than position, promises that require godlike omnipotence and omniscience to keep, an electorate that hangs on every word or checks out all-together: the seemy side of government rears it's ugly head. It's shutdown can't be all bad.
Should we be surprised? Human government is God's concession to a people who reject his direct authority in their lives. So we have what we deserve. I know that sounds extreme and negative. Track with me through redemptive history as its recorded in Scripture.
Redemptive or Revelation History
I often refer to redemptive or revelation history in my hubs. I want to avoid misunderstanding by defining that notion. Suppose you were to pick a book on the history of Ireland. You would expect to learn about events related to this nation. The author has researched his theme and included all that pertains to Ireland. He's also selected only those events that help you understand Ireland. You would not fault him for ignoring the Boxer Rebellion in China.
So it is with the Scriptures. The Bible reveals God's plan to redeem for himself a people with whom to enjoy healthy friendship for all eternity. The Apostle John admitted as much when he wrote, "Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God." (John 20:30,31) There are some events in Jesus' life that John chose to ignore.
Cynics often fault the Bible for not answering every question or for ignoring items they deem significant. The Bible never claims to be an exhaustive compendium of information. There is enough there to show the reasonableness of the gospel and to equip believers for every good work, including public service. It is not a how-to book or an encyclopedia. Don't expect it to be.
In the beginning
When God created the first human being He embedded within Adam his own image such that human beings are more like God than they are like other creatures. God entrusted to man the care and further development of the newly minted universe. Success in this enterprise would depend, first and foremost, on Adam and Eve maintaining close contact with their Creator. He would guide and empower them for the task.
It didn't quite work out that way. At their first decision-point they opted for independence from God's authority and found themselves exiled, alone and helpless in an uncooperative universe. They would have self-destructed altogether except that God ordained a rudimentary form of government to maintain some semblance of order. It was known as patriarchy. Fathers were expected to assume beneficent authority over their families. And so clans developed. Heads of families were to look to God for guidance and strength. Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph come to mind. That God continued trucking with them despite their numerous foibles is testimony to His grace.
Under God but subject to an Egyptian Pharaoh
Now in the the days of Jacob and of his son, Joseph, there was a dramatic change. Due to a famine, God's people under the last patriarch, Jacob traveled to Egypt to gain relief. Through an amazing set of circumstances drawn by the very finger of God, Joseph found himself in a position of power. He was able to arrange his family's migration to Egypt. There they prospered, so much so that the Pharaoh felt threatened by their presence in his land. A few hundred years of brutal slavery all but destroyed what societal structure the various clans had developed. Moses' job was not only to lead God's people out of Egypt but to weld them into a nation under God's guidance and provision. Moses' leadership was marked by features that would not be found in one man again for 1500 years. He was a prophet in that he spoke God's Word to the people. He was a priest in that he spoke to God on behalf of his people. He was a king (albeit crown-less) in that he ruled them. Joshua was Moses' successor. But after Joshua, every man did as he pleased. The next prophet/priest/king? Jesus! Stay with me.
Every man did has he pleased
Since their hearts were far from God, what they pleased to do put them in conflict with each other and with themselves. They cycled around a pattern of prosperity leading to rebellion; which, in turn, brought judgement in the form of invasions from other nations. When they remembered God and cried out to Him, God raised a strongman, known as a judge, to deliver them. Then followed a time of peace and prosperity. Israel lived through such a cycle no less than twelve times.
Then they got tired of it. But instead of turning to God, they demanded that Samuel give them a king like the other nations had. A king they got, but not before being warned that he would tax them excessively, conscript their young men into his armies and reduce them to serfdom. But if their king humbly followed God, both he and they would prosper. Over the next 600 years they indeed suffered under their kings, even under the best of them. It took a seventy year captivity to bring Israel back to sobriety. God then moved the Persian monarch, Cyrus, to send Ezra and Nehemiah back to Jerusalem. It is significant that the first structure built was not the walls or a castle, but the temple. God himself would returned to the throne. Well, at least theoretically. I say that because few recognized David's next heir, Jesus Christ.
Among the bright young Jewish men taken into the Babylonian captivity was Daniel who wound up in Nebuchanezzer's court. Daniel soon distinguished himself as a wise and sensitive advisor to the king. Turns out Nebuchadnezzer had a troubling dream in which he saw a magnificent statue. It's head was of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron and feet of an iron and clay mixture. A boulder, hewn but not by human hands, came crashing down on the statue, destroying it. Then the boulder itself became a huge mountain that filled the earth. Under God's direction Daniel explained that each part of the statue represented successive world dominions with the first of gold being the Babylonian. The boulder represents the kingdom of God which ultimately will destroy all human governments and takes their place. The graphics below show four successive human empires, each more unstable than the other. The green triangle represents the eternal kingdom of God
We learn later in Daniel that the prophet himself had visions which offer God's view of human governments. What Nebuchadnezzer saw as a magnificent statue, God portrays as ferocious beasts. See the next two charts below.
An eternal kingdom
That human governments will inevitably prey on their subjects is further confirmed by their portrayal in Revelation 13. There you read of two beasts, the first rising out of the sea represents human governments, while the second, represents the various means by which these governments maintain control of their subjects: media, educational institutions, armies, etc.
Daniel had one more vision. It's known as the seventy week vision. It's been interpreted in various ways by scholars. My own take is that, in answer to Daniel's prayer, God gives him a timeline which climaxes in the coming of Jesus Christ. From Daniel's point of view the first and second comings of Jesus are telescoped into one, much like parallel mountain ranges appear from a distance to be one.
Note how the six descriptive phrases on Daniel 9:24 (listed in the green triangle below) match up with what Jesus Christ came to establish. Jesus's kingdom is like no other. He came to put an end to sin by atoning for it and when He returns he will establish a visible kingdom where righteousness prevails.
This is admittedly a very fast trek through redemptive history. I usually give numerous links to biblical texts to demonstrate where I get my perspectives. I chose not to this time because I want you to see the big picture. That picture displays God's purpose rather clearly. While his original intent was to govern humankind directly, human rebellion made that impossible. A holy God cannot truck with sinners. However, in Christ, God is restoring us to himself so that one day his direct rule will be an eternal and universal reality. Jeremiah hinted at this when he wrote, "No longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'know the Lord,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." (Jeremiah 31:34)
What are the godly to do until God's purpose is fully achieved? We practice what Jesus called living in the world without being of the world.
1.We recognize that government is a necessary evil. In a fallen world, flesh and blood rulers are required to keep order and maintain justice. Paul calls them "God's servants for good." (Romans 13:1-7) Most serve Him unwittingly, yet they cannot help serve God's ends, yes even the wicked ones.
2.To the degree that these human governments are influenced by Godly principles of justice and mercy they will be more tolerable. The reigns of David and Solomon, Hezekiah and Josiah showed streaks of godliness; as did the American experiment in our early days. So Christians ought to participate zealously in the political system. But we do so with our eyes open. We do not expect to bring in universal righteousness; only slow the inevitable advance of the beastly character of human government while, all along, confidently looking for the coming fulfillment of Christ's kingdom.
3.This approach gives us a positive realism. We don't despair, whoever comes to power in our own country or abroad. Neither do we put undue hope in any one candidate, party or system of government. Our Lord rules over them all. One day soon that will be very obvious.
Jesus' haunting question rings in our ears. "When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on earth?" (Luke 18:8)