In America, we need a lot of help.
That said, it is the impulse of many of us to want to handle it all ourselves – who else can we trust after all? And yet, do we not need someone with wisdom who can help us see the bigger picture? Someone who can lovingly guide us, help us, lead us? Someone who is willing to lovingly restrain us as we flail about in our foolish pursuits, causing God knows what harm and danger? And do we not need someone who is strong and willing to lend a hand, and yet also constantly helps us to see that we cannot live by government handouts alone? Do we not need a wise King who knows the nature of man, the times we live in and the providence of God – and who will benevolently rule us?
We do – I am reminded of a fascinating quote from an atheistic Jewish Yale professor at Duke University in 1979:
“I want to believe – and so do you – in a complete, transcendent, and immanent set of propositions about right and wrong, findable rules that authoritatively and unambiguously direct us how to live righteously. I also want to believe – and so do you – in no such thing, but rather that we are wholly free, not only to choose for ourselves what we ought to do, but to decide for ourselves, individually and as a species, what we ought to be. What we want, Heaven help us, is simultaneously to be perfectly ruled and perfectly free, that is, at the same time to discover the right and the good and to create it.”* (Arthur Leff, Unspeakable Ethics, Natural Law, see essay here)
We clearly need help, even more so now 34 years later….but here we should also know we cannot trust earthly kings to govern us in such matters – we know that if history is any precedent he will
“take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.” (I Samuel 8)
And then these kings will finally take away all the freedoms we hold most dear – particularly our religious freedom (or might that come earlier rather than later?).
“Still, on the contrary, is democracy – even a democratic republic – any way to run a household? Heaven help us again! Is this not the way to ruin any nation – whether it be “native” or civilized? Does this not end rather in slavery as man chooses the belly over virtue in general and biblically defined virtue in particular? Yes, I am trying to be provocative here. Perhaps we should say it will end in slavery – if Christianity loses its influence more and more?
Again, the Indian Christian intellectual Vishal Mangalwadi – ever optimistic about America’s future – writes in his book The Book that Made Your World:
“Does the American notion of “one nation under God” or “in God we trust” imply theocracy or democracy? The biblical tradition discovered during the Reformation viewed theocracy and democracy as necessary complements: human rule flowed from God’s rule. The Bible depicts God as the ultimate ruler. The first two chapters of Genesis, however, record that God created us – male and female – to rule his earth. Human beings have the right to rule on this planet because God gave us that right. The Lord Jesus claimed he had come to bring God’s kingdom to this earth. His mission was to give the kingdom not to aristocrats, but to the poor, meek, and the righteous.” (339)
This sounds good at so many levels, and yet should it? First of all, let us note that this is not the way the first voice of the Reformation saw things (more on that tomorrow). While I agree liberty is good and desirable, what about Romans 13? According to P.S. Spalding, reviewing the new book from Oxford University Press Sacred scripture, sacred war: the Bible and the American Revolution by James Byrd, “in citing New Testament admonitions to practice peace and obey rulers (Matthew 5, Romans 13, 1 Peter 2), colonial interpreters frequently denied their application in cases of oppression.”**
Hmm. I know God does not want rulers to be oppressors. Further, I know Paul writes in I Cor. 7 that if we can improve our situation, we should. But in what sense were the British oppressors anyway? And even if they were, would that have justified the American revolution? How seriously do we take Romans 13 here?:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
More on that tomorrow.
*Arthur Leff, quoted by Johnson P.E., “Nihilism and the end of the Law”. First Things 1993; (31:20), quoted by Christian professor and lecturer John Patrick on many occasions.
** Interestingly, “Byrd deems these interpretations to have formed the groundwork for scripturally inspired attacks on slavery in the 19th century” – an analysis, which it seems, Yeago, in the earlier mentioned article (part I), would make a convincing case against.
More of that book review from CHOICE: “Drawing on 17,148 biblical citations in 543 sources ranging from King Philip’s War to the early Federal period (1674-1800), Byrd (Vanderbilt) offers a convincing, first systematic analysis of how early American preachers and authors used the Bible to interpret Americans’ engagement in war. He concludes that among the most important Old Testament passages cited for political purposes were those portraying God as warrior and inspirer of Israelites against such oppressors as Pharaoh, Sisera, Goliath, and Rehoboam (Exodus 14-15, Judges 4-5, 1 Samuel 17, Psalm 144); and cursing those refusing to fight (Judges 5.23, Jeremiah 48.10). In the New Testament, Paul’s endorsement of liberty (Galatians 5.1) proved popular in the later colonial period. So did the words of John of Patmos: not for millenarian visions, but for immediate encouragement to resist evil under a warrior Christ (Revelation 2: 12-13, 19). In citing New Testament admonitions to practice peace and obey rulers (Matthew 5, Romans 13, 1 Peter 2), colonial interpreters frequently denied their application in cases of oppression. Notably, Byrd deems these interpretations to have formed the groundwork for scripturally inspired attacks on slavery in the 19th century.”