In my experience, it is a common belief among evangelical Christians these days that the government and other ruling authorities are a result of the fall. They argue that if mankind were not depraved, then there would be no institution or collection of institutions necessary for regulating relationships between men. Some strains of Christian theology go so far as to say that the state is inherently evil and must be eliminated. These sentiments are understandable. The evils of Nazi Germany and 20th century communism, the persistence of destructive wars, the extreme levels of debt, and dozens of other examples reveal the depravity of our world. Just think of poor old Mr. Smith who went to Washington so long ago… It is easy to give up on government.
But Genesis 1:26-31 shows us something different entirely. God created men and women to rule the earth through multiplying and subduing. Adam and Eve were called not just to live solitary lives in a bush, they were to make, eat, reproduce, admire, and even rule. God told them to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” This command by God for men and women to rule the earth was given before sin entered their lives. And a vast expansion of the number of people in any place requires some work to figure out how to live together. Even if no one were sinful, there would be coordination required, cooperation. You simply cannot have a dense population without agreement on basic things – how will we deal with wastewater? Where should we farm? Where should we dispose of things? How will we reuse resources the most effectively? The list goes on and on (and it approximates at least many departments of government). Therefore, leadership and government should not be viewed as a necessary evil. Instead they are the necessary outgrowth of something that God deemed “very good.”
What does that mean for government? The government is an institution charged with the authority to rule over its citizens in a given region. It makes laws to establish justice and solve disputes between parties. The civil government is certainly one way that men and women can establish their dominion over the earth. Thus, a vocation in government is something that God intended for his creation as one aspect of man’s rule over the earth. Other things equal, Christians should have no problem working for the government. In fact, they should view it as a calling with which God has blessed them.
Of course there are caveats to this point, because we live in a world where everything is touched by sin – both ourselves individually and ourselves corporately. Most importantly, men and women in government are merely princes. The true head of all things is God himself who has created the earth itself. It is only through him that we can have the authority we do. Leaders of mankind must have the humility to recognize this. A government servant’s behavior should mirror that of Christ’s, who is King but also the suffering servant. In God’s designs for government, there is no room for pride and the abuses that result from it. Thus, the evils of modern governments reveal the depths to which sin has corrupted all institutions. To prevent such excesses, government employees must humble themselves before God and his righteous kingdom.
In addition to recognizing God’s ultimate authority, the leaders of mankind must recognize the dignity of all men. We learn in Genesis 1 that God created all people in his image. Though God may bestow some men with authority over others, all men bear God’s image and are thus equally valuable. It would be irresponsible for the government to lord its power over its citizens by disrespecting the value of mankind in God’s eyes. This is why limits on the power of the government are a great way to respect all people under the government’s care. A Christian in government should go even further by asking God to search his or her actions for any wrongdoing.
So it’s easy to see why people distrust the government, why it so often becomes a problem and not a solution. This is not a call for “big government.” But it is a reminder that government is a necessary good, not a necessary evil. Mr. Smith needs to stay here.
Eric Peterman interns on Capitol Hill as a member of the 2015-2016 Falls Church Fellows Program.
Photos: FreeImages.com/Barb Ballard, Grzegorz Czajkowski