Is the Bible a Panacea for Poor Government?
What is the role of the government? To be sure, this question is answered in different ways by different people.
Libertarian: to get out of the way.
Conservative: to protect and defend us, our property, and our rights.
Liberal: to protect us from ourselves.
Bible: to punish evildoers and reward the righteous.
At first glance, these seem to be mutually exclusive, especially when we consider what each group means by those statements. The libertarian, for example, wants the government to not bother us at all–which seemingly gives us the freedom to do anything, anarchy in other words. The conservative, on the other hand, wants the government to tax us so long as it is used for national defense and police. The liberal, rather, wants the government to stop wasting money on bigger bombs and to spend it on protecting us from poor financial decisions and life decisions, thereby protecting us from obesity, poverty, ignorance, and more. The Bible would see the government punishing murderers and thieves while rewarding the honest and hard-working.
When applied to specifics, the principles seem to be at opposite ends of various spectrums. Ultimately, however, if the government actually followed the Biblical principles of governance, would libertarians, conservatives, and liberals actually have any objections? For example, if the government, rather than heaping law upon law on us, simply executed justice by punishing murderers, thieves, and other criminals, would the society that results from that practice diminish the demands of liberals, conservatives, and libertarians? If the government, rather than giving money to every kind of group, creating a kind of class and social group warfare, simply rewarded the righteous, would the resulting society diminish those demands even further? In this latter case, rather than providing welfare, could the government simply reward the righteous who support the needs of the poor with tax incentives or some other incentive?
What kind of society would this result in? If the government operated consistently at these standards and criteria, there would be so little government involvement and manipulation in society that the libertarians and conservatives would have little to say. If the resulting society was one that was safer, kinder, and more loving to one another, the liberals would have little to demand of the government. Even if they still tried to demand more of the government, they would hardly be able to build the momentum needed to effect the kind of change the few would want.
There are a few problems with this argument, though. The first is a bit of naivety on my part. Is it truly to be believed that the complaints of all three groups would be quieted and satisfied by a government obeying the Bible? Especially when those groups are made up of people who are not Christians? Well, I’m not sure that the argument could be made with hypotheticals; it would have to be practiced to be seen.
Second, it seems like a panacea. If we just do X, then all of the problems A, B, and C will be solved. I’d rather not think of this, however, as a switch that once you turn it on all of the darkness is at once dispelled. It would be a process that takes time, and in those initial years, there would be a lot of complaining, complaints that might make the whole process more difficult, lengthier, or even short-lived.
Third, would the implementation of such a government actually result in this hypothetical society that could quiet all of these other complaints? I think so, but it could be easily argued that this is just me trusting that God described a role for government that could actually work.
Last, what kind of government would this have to be? Well, I’m not sure that it would have to be a Republic, Democracy, Monarchy, or other. I think, so long as the rule was followed, it could be any one or another of those. What I am not sure, however, is whether it could work in a nation that has so segregated the Church and the State. It seems to me that the two would have to be in a kind of partnership for it to work, but I am too colored by the American project to imagine–at this point–what that would look like.
Whatever the case may be, the role of the government is to punish the wicked and reward the righteous–no more, no less.
Matt Bianco is a PCA elder, homeschooler, classical liberal, husband, and father. He loves the Church, education, freedom, his wife, and his children.