A Deep Theological Question

Smitty posts these two quotes:

From the standpoint of governance, what is at stake is our ability to use the rule of law as an instrument of human redemption.

—Al Gore

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God …

—Romans 3:23

and then asks the profound question:

Through what mechanism do individual sinners, forming a government, achieve that which they cannot accomplish individually?

As a Christian, the first place I go in pursuing an answer is the Bible. Further along in the book of Romans, Paul wrote this:

For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil.

—Romans 13:3, 4

So I would argue that a government that is doing good rather than evil is operating for God’s purpose. To the extent that we, as individual sinners, contribute to doing good, we are not at cross-purposes with God. The problem we have as sinners is knowing the difference between good and evil.

One of the principal beliefs of historic Christianity is the expectation that one day God will intervene in history to put an end to evil at what is often called the Second Coming. There have been various interpretations of the prophecies relating to that event. One which came into vogue during the Protestant Reformation was Postmillennialism. The Cliffs Notes version of this interpretation is that Jesus will not return until His Church has done a sufficiently good job of cleaning up the world for Him. Thus, working not only to convert the heathen but also to end bad human behavior hastens the day of His return.

This interpretation has almost died out among most Christians. It was severely wounded in Flanders around 1915 and again at Auschwitz in 1945 and has never really recovered. However, in the generation before WWI it was an important motivator for many do-gooders who brought us such social experiments as Prohibition. It’s in that sort of busybody activity that we see how we humans can fail to understand evil.

Was Prohibition a good thing? Drunkenness is a bad thing. If we have no booze in society, all those alcoholics will be dry.

Well, we saw how things worked in the real world. Evil is clever about finding ways around mere laws. Prohibition was not a good thing; it became a means by which Evil got a stronger foothold in our society.

Human beings are creatures with freewill. We are creatures who can choose good or evil. If I write, “Murder is evil,” almost everyone will agree. If I write,”Stealing is evil,” almost everyone will agree. If I write, “Perjury is evil,” almost everyone will agree. If had written, “Adultery is evil,” a hundred years ago, I would have had more agreement then than I would get now. The Apostle Paul also noted that the Law is a schoolmaster that teaches us sinners the difference between good and evil. A law that a significant portion of society flouts is a law that teaches society to be lawless and opens our hearts to greater evil.

I personally believe that defacing the environment as poor stewards of creation is a form of evil. I believe that Al Gore is correct when he says that government has a role in restraining that evil (without agreeing with his proposed solutions), but that he’s dead wrong when he says the purpose is redemption. God does the redeeming.

We need to be more humble about the laws we impose on one another lest we wind up actually encouraging more lawlessness.

UPDATE—Typo corrected. Thanks, Ken.

UPDATE 2–Second correction crediting Smitty. I shouldn’t post until after the second cup of coffee.