The Role of the State, and Our Votes

Temporal government isn’t exciting. It’s hard work in the service of justice, governed itself by the principles of justice. And I’m convinced that justice will not be served but that its dispensers be people of compassion as well. This does not imply anything new and exciting. There’s nothing new about government.“Nihil sub sole novum,” says Ecclesiastes. So I shall never justifiably put the weight of my hope in the state. If I do, I’m committing idolatry. Simple as that.

But the defence of what is good against what is evil, implicitly in the name of God, is exciting. More than that, doing the good that a human government will never have authority or even be able to do is exciting. But the state is not as an organism blessed with the Holy Spirit, though it may have many members who are, and so it has enough trouble punishing injustice.

Systems do not love. People love. The state does not love. The people serving in it love. Expecting the state to do positive justice will only overstretch it in having it do what it was never designed to do.

Instead, I will rejoice that the church is superior to the state, though its members are also under temporal authority. For indeed it is the church to whom God has given authority to do good in Him as the body of His children.

We have a thing called separation between church and state, so that neither should threaten the purity of the other’s task. Both are under God’s dominion, but neither can rule the other and so usurp the place of God. At the same time, they have authority over some of the same people. One, the state, is the Lord’s servant, the other, the church, His bride.

Yes, the state — nay, the ruler — must pursue benevolence and righteousness, but he must never forget that though he is acting as God’s servant his instruments and his charge have not allotted to him to do the work of the church. The state needs to stop other entities, as well as itself, from interfering with the work that God accomplishes through His church.

Let no one be conservative for the sake of being conservative, unless two options are morally equal and caution is needed. At the same time, let no one be revolutionary for the sake of being revolutionary. We can never be satisfied with the status quo (because it, too, is a decision) or with traditions that dishonour God, but neither can we ever seek to change things without considering it closer to God’s vision (thus holier), and through the vehicles that God has appointed for each matter.

I think I have just two steps to try to discern what the government is supposed to do:

  1. What justice is, according to the Bible, and what principles can thence be extracted.
  2. What the state is commanded and allowed to do, according to the Bible, and what encourages the church without interfering with it.

It just so happens that what comes out of this mix for me is usually pegged as “conservative”, but I really don’t care about the label. Perhaps there’s a better process. If so, tell me. I don’t want to hold bad opinions for the rest of my life. What I think needs to be changing constantly to better reflect God’s goodness. If you say nothing, why should you expect anyone to say anything?

The better each and every vote is, the better. May we be obedient and faithful to God in vote we cast: though every one seems to be a die upon the Rubicon, a fate left to chance, we know God in His providence is faithful and true, and so there are no lots but the will of God.


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