This post is made because recently I have engaged in conversation (more like debate, in my opinion). The debated issue is about the limit of free speech and more generally about how far should government control its citizens. It seems that from our discussion, most people in mailing list tend to view state as ultimate solution for all freedom of expression that they do not like. Previously we have discussed about mosque at Ground Zero, Quran burning controversy, and gay marriage. In this post, I will try to explain why do I think that as faithful Christians we should try to minimize government intervention in our life.
The use of sword can only control behavior but does not change heart. Government needs threats and punishments to enforce people’s behavior to conform to their laws. Certainly, the use of violence can be right in certain times. For example, we need police to protect us from criminals. As far as people’s concern, it looks very effective, from outward experience.
However, government can only produce conformity, it cannot bring about an internal change. Government can stipulate that murder will be punished, for example, but it can’t change a person’s desire to murder. It just instills fear to be executed or arrested. Their motive may be entirely self-serving. Government doesn’t care, so long as the all conform to the law. Laws, enforced by the sword, control behavior but cannot change hearts.
The Bible said that all kingdoms of the world are under control and/or influence of Satan. Consider passage from the Bible from Luke 4: 1-13. This passage is about Jesus that was being tempted by Satan. Look at verses 5-7 more carefully:
The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.
Now, obviously some people claim that we cannot take what Satan claim as literally true since Satan is “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8: 44), according to ESV commentary. However, I am not convinced of its arguments because obviously Satan can only commit lie to people who do not know about something he knows. But Jesus himself is Son of God who knows all things (John 21: 17) and demons know that Jesus is Son of God (Mark 5: 7; Luke 4: 34; Luke 8: 28). Therefore, it is reasonable to say that Satan which is the head of demons is also know that Jesus knows all things. Now, how can Satan try to lie to Son of God, who knows everything? The best way to interpret it, in my opinion, is to concede that he was saying the truth but tempted Jesus to violate His Father’s command.
Other than this passage, three times Jesus also mentioned entity who is said to be ruler of this world. (John 12: 31; 14: 30; 16: 11) which is traditionally interpreted as Satan. Regarding this entity, here is some comments from Biblical scholar. More details, here.
Barnes’ notes on the Bible:
Now shall the prince of this world – Satan, or the devil, John 14:30; John 16:11. He is also called the god of this world, 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 6:12; “The rulers of the darkness of this world” – that is, the rulers of this dark world a well-known Hebraism. He is also called “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience,” Ephesians 2:2. All these names are given him from the influence or power which he has over the men of this world, because the great mass of men have been under his control and subject to his will.
Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible
The epithet סר העולם sar ha-olam, prince of this world, is repeatedly applied to the devil, or to Samael, who is termed the angel of death. The Jews fabled that, into the hands of this chief, God had delivered all the nations of the earth, except the Israelites. See Lightfoot. The words are understood by others as addressed to these believing Greeks, and to have the following meaning, which is extremely different from the other. “In a short time (four or five days afterwards) ye shall see what sort of a judgment this world passes. I, who am its ruler and prince, shall be cast out, shall be condemned by my own creatures, as an impious and wicked person. But do not be discouraged: though I be lifted up on the cross, and die like a malefactor, nevertheless I will draw all men unto myself. The Gospel of Christ crucified shall be the grand agent, in the hand of the Most High, of the conversion and salvation of a ruined world.” But see on John 14:30 (note); John 16:11 (note).
The term “ruler” (arche) was a political term used to describe the highest authority in a given region – and Jesus applied it to Satan over the whole world. Apostle Paul confirmed this, for he refers to entity as “the god of this age”and as “the ruler of the power of the air” (2 Corinthians 4: 4; Ephesians 2: 2). Traditionally, it is also interpreted as Satan (more details, here and here):
Barnes’ notes on the Bible:
The god of this world – There can be no doubt that Satan is here designated by this appellation; though some of the fathers supposed that it means the true God, and Clarke inclines to this opinion. In John 12:31, he is called “the prince of this world.” In Ephesians 2:2, he is called “the prince of the power of the air.” And in Ephesians 6:12, the same bad influence is referred to under the names of “principalities, and powers,” “the rulers of the darkness of this world,” and “spiritual wickedness in high places.” The name “god” is here given to him, not because he has any divine attributes, but because he actually has the homage of the people of this world as their god, as the being who is really worshipped, or who has the affections of their hearts in the same way as it is given to idols. By “this world” is meant the wicked world; or the mass of people. He has dominion over the world. They obey his will; they execute his plans; they further his purposes, and they are his obedient subjects. He has subdued the world to himself, and was really adored in the place of the true God; see the note on 1 Corinthians 10:20. “They sacrificed to devils and not to God.”
So while I agree that God can use government for his providential purposes (Romans 13), in general we should be cautious about government for it is under Satan’s influence. We are even to be more cautious if some politicians, by promising ‘order’, ‘utopia’, ‘prosperity’, ‘justice’, are trying to persuade voters to expand government power and scope to legislate either economic freedom, personal freedom, political freedom, and so on. The more power government has, the more potential for evil it possesses. And since Satan has tremendous influence and/or power to the government of this world, by giving government more power we give Satan more potentials to accomplish his evil purposes. We, as Christians, cannot do that for sure!
What about Romans 13?. The most common passage used to argue government as ‘good’ thing is Romans 13. The passage is as follows (Romans 13: 1-4):
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established [tetagmenai] by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. Rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer.
We can get several points from this passage. (1) We should be faithful to government as longs as it does not violate God’s command (Acts 5: 29). (2) Government is tool for God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Here, Paul only said that government acts as God’s tools as long as it executes wrath on the wrongdoer (criminal). There is no command here for government for legislating sins, lifestyles, and expressions which is contrary to God’s command.
In short, although I think that government can do some good things we have to be careful not to view it as ultimate solution to solve all problems we have in this world. We need to remember that Satan has tremendous influence and/or power over all authorities and he can use government to accomplish his purposes. The solution to world problem, as far as we can, should be solved by active participation of every individuals.
In next post, I will explain what means for us, as Christians, that can be used to solve world problems.