Tuesday, August 18, 2015

God's A Statist?

A Facebook acquaintance, with a penchant for conflating libertarianism with atheism and anarchy, opined:

Rarely does a Libertarian identify government as "the ministry of God to thee for good." Rather, they make government their enemy.

While it is false that libertarians “make government their enemy,” it is true that Romans 13:4 speaks of God and government. Paul says that the civil magistrate is “God’s minister to you for good.” But what does this mean?

Is this a universal truth—no exceptions? Does the Bible actually teach that all governments are God’s servants for the well-being of those they rule? I think not.

Consider the administration of a king named Manasseh.

Manasseh seduced them to do more evil than the nations whom the LORD had destroyed before the children of Israel. And the LORD spoke by His servants the prophets saying, “Because Manasseh king of Judah has done these abominations . . . I am bringing such calamity upon Jerusalem and Judah, that whoever hears of it, both his ears will tingle (2Kings 21:9-12).

This is hardly a ringing endorsement for Manasseh’s government. Sadly, he is far from the exception. “And he [the king] did evil in the sight of the LORD” is a recurring theme of Israel’s and Judah’s kings. These were in no sense “ministers of God to you for good.” Rather, such governments are evil and they bring disaster upon their subjects.

It’s also quite difficult to understand how the beastly government of Revelation 13 is God’s minister for good.

It was granted to him [the beast] to make war with the saints and to overcome them. And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation (v.7).

And what of Hitler…Stalin…Frank Underwood?

No. The Bible is much too honest and nuanced to endorse a simplistic “all government is good” slogan. The Statist prayer: “Government is good, Government is great” is nowhere in sacred scripture.

Because all government is obviously not good, I favor government with limited powers. 
That government is best which governs least,
because its people discipline themselves.
~attributed to Thomas Jefferson


  1. HUGE topic! Far too big to exhaustively address here. Consider these thoughts:

    1. The subject is biblical authority, not people. All are in authority, and all are under authority. Deal with the principle of authority.

    2. Anyone in a position of authority (and we all are in some way) is to use that authority for the welfare and not for the harm of those under his/her authority.

    3. If one in authority abuses his/her authority and does harm to those under his/her authority, that person is accountable to God, and God will get His due in good time.

    4. That includes civil government; consequences come for abusing their authority and blessings come for properly exercising their authority . . . for the good of those under that authority.

    1. Bob,
      I think your 4 points may be acceptable--but only if they are understood as being very general or non-specific.

      For example, your point 3: True, every person is "accountable to God." But universal accountability to God is not the subject of my article.

      I am speaking specifically to the very narrow point of government as "God's minister to you for good."

      Does the Bible teach that all governments/rulers are "God's minister(s) to you for good"? I don't believe it does (see 2 biblical examples above). That is, Romans 13, when understood within the broader biblical context, is not to be viewed as a principle with universal application.

      If Paul's intended message is: the most evil rulers imaginable are in fact "God's minister(s) to you for good," then it's difficult to see how his words have intelligible meaning.

      Would Paul say to the young mother who just watched Herod's henchman murder her baby son: "Herod is God's minster to you for good"? I don't think he would. And I don't think this is what he intended to convey in Romans 13.

      Thank you for reading and thinking, Bob.

  2. What about the Kingdom of Darkness? Its ruler as we know is Satan. I believe we have to look at the Sovereignty of God over all. I don't believe all Governments ARE good however they do carry out the purposes of God, good or evil and ultimately it is His goodness that will be achieved. Evil governments cannot tie the hands of God or His purposes.

    1. "Evil governments cannot tie the hands of God or His purposes."

      I think this true, though the purposes of God (with any degree of specificity) may be forever unknown to us.

      Thanks for reading and thinking, Billy.