Politics according to the Bible

Yeah, let’s go for a topic that is generally polemic. What I’m going to present here will not be exhaustive, but at least I believe it’s a fair and honest (although very breathy) treatment on the topic.

First things first, I believe that the Bible is the Word of God. I believe it was written by people (very likely all men) who were inspired by God. This means that the Bible is not their book. It’s God’s book. Also, although it was written in contexts and cultures very different from ours today, it is still true because it speaks of things that are eternal. So, with that in mind, here are some things I believe the Bible teaches on politics.

The whole Bible is a story of creation, fall, redemption and restoration. God created the World “very good”. However, man fell from this status when he sinned. Sin is to disobey God’s law or to fail to conform to it.  When the first man, Adam, sinned, we all sinned, because Adam was our federal representative. It may sound unfair that we are all punished for something that someone else did, but students of politics shouldn’t be surprised. We suffer (or benefit) from things we didn’t do all the time. In this particular case, God chose Adam as humanity’s representative. God is just. It was a just choice. After Adam fell, Jesus became the federal representative of a part of humanity that God decided to save. This is the “redemption”. The restoration is God reversing the effects of the fall through the church.

The whole Bible story can be summarized as “kingdom through covenant”. A covenant is a solemn agreement between at least two (not necessarily equal) parties, involving promises and sanctions. God made a covenant with Adam. Adam broke that covenant. God made a covenant with Jesus. Jesus fulfilled the covenant. By fulfilling it, Jesus became the king of a people, the church.

Jesus’ covenant was anticipated by some covenants in what we call the Old Testament. Although the theories vary, the point is that God’s covenants with Noah, Abraham, Moses and David somehow anticipate Jesus. This means that in the Old Testament God’s people was mostly one nation, Israel, organized as a nation-state. This nation-state had civil laws. One great mistake is to try to apply these civil laws to any state today. Israel was an anticipation of the real people of God, the church. The church is not a nation-state. It doesn’t have civil laws. Actually, Jesus repeatedly said that his kingdom was not of this world, meaning that it would not be brought by political force.

The fact that Israel was an anticipation of the true church doesn’t mean that all the laws given to Israel are irrelevant today. The moral law given in the 10 commandments is still biding. even the civil laws, although no longer biding, can be informative. The point is that these laws cannot be enforced by any state. They have to be preached. People must be left free to join. Or not.

What the church can expect from the state? It would certainly be great to live in a country that fully conforms to God’s moral law, but this is not a realistic expectation. The best we can expect is a state that keeps people free to decide whether they want to join the church of not. Other than that, there is a moral law that we all can benefit from: don’t hurt others and don’t pick their stuff without permission.

Trying to enforce God’s kingdom was one of the greatest mistakes Christians committed through the centuries, and I believe many Christians are still doing it today. We want people to be Christians not out of their free choice, but by coercion. Or we want people to externally behave as Christians when they are not. Again: the best we can do is to let people free to decide. And meanwhile, demand that we are also free to practice our religion, no matter what other people think about it.

2 thoughts on “Politics according to the Bible

  1. I very largely agree with most of the sentiments you express here. I don’t think the lessons you list here are quite complete (not surprising, given the length of the volume and how much people have debated What It Means). God does indeed believe in agency and leaving His people to be free to make their choices and receive the consequences – good and bad – from those choices. Governments should not make laws that impose or infringe beliefs.

    In addition and tempering that, though, I notice He rarely comes out in mighty wrath and majesty against individual baddies during this life, but He very often has very strong words and acts for when entire societies act in ways that go against His laws. That tells me He does also care about how the society is organized, which laws are passed and actually enforced.

    When the people cried out for a king, God said to Samuel the prophet that the people had not rejected Samuel, but God Himself in wanting someone other than Him as their king. That tells me He also cares about the form of government as well. Kings and Chronicles are nothing if not instructive for how much damage can be done to a nation’s soul when it is led by wicked people.

    To the extent a nation makes laws and creates governments that are expressly counter to those laws and systems God has ordained, that society will be led further from God. There are real consequences, temporal and eternal, for those choices. One of the purposes of law is to teach what is right, and I worry that a government that only prevented direct harm and did nothing else would – in our current fallen state – encourage the worst in people too readily.

Please keep it civil

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