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Truth Project #9 - The State: “Whose Law?”

May 20, 2012 Romans 13:1-7

WHAT WILL SAVE THE QUEEN?

It’s Victoria Day weekend, so I found an illustration involving Queen Victoria that ties in with our topic. It suggests she grasped early that, even as a monarch, she needed to submit herself to certain ethical guidelines.
    When Queen Victoria was a child, she didn't know she was in line for the throne of England. Her instructors, trying to prepare her for the future, were frustrated because they couldn't motivate her. She just didn't take her studies seriously. Finally, her teachers decided to tell her that one day she would become the queen of England. Upon hearing this, Victoria quietly said, “Then I will be good.” The realization that she had inherited this high calling gave her a sense of responsibility that profoundly affected her conduct from then on.
    Would that it were so for all kings, presidents, prime ministers, premiers, wardens, reeves, and all those in charge of political jurisdictions! The state plays a huge role in the lives of individuals, in some countries more than others. Is Canada a ‘welfare state’? We enjoy universal health care, while many in our neighbouring country to the south would oppose what they call “Obama-care.” This week a United Nations representative criticized our country’s lack of fresh food options particularly in remote and northern regions, saying people have a ‘right’ to food. Really? Is it up to the state to provide food for individuals, are we ‘entitled’ to that? Another relevant issue is the closure of many rural schools in the province by school boards; should a board of trustees have the absolute right to close school X without a court of appeal? Is it wise to vest fallible individuals with such power and a lack of accountability? So you can see today’s topic has direct impact on our daily lives.
    Our main idea is that, without God, truth, or any higher moral standard, people are increasingly looking to the state as saviour and the supplier of every human need. Governments are capable of error, and must be held accountable to a higher ethical law if they are to be prevented from wreaking havoc in the lives of citizens entrusted to their care.

WHEN THE STATE STEPS TOO FAR

Is it possible for the state to “steal”? Does that ever happen, that a government could be accused of stealing? In the Truth Project video, Dr Del Tackett gives the example of parents of a young family dying in a car accident without a will, and the state stepping in to take half the couple’s assets. What makes that different from a gang of thieves bursting in and carrying off half the belongings?
    In Canada, last year the Fraser Institute calculated that June 6 was “Tax Freedom Day”: if Canadians had to pay all taxes up front, the institute says, they would have to hand over every penny they earned to the government up to that date - 42.6% of annual income. Does the government really deserve all of that? Would Newfoundlanders, where the actual provincial date is June 19, be envious of Albertans where the date is a whole month earlier - May 19? Also sobering to realize - the Fraser Institute warns that Tax Freedom Day would fall 16 days later if governments paid for their current level of spending by raising taxes, rather than running up deficits. Are we choosing to ‘steal’ from future generations by running up a deficit now?
    [SLIDE 4] Can the state steal? The Bible records an incident from the northern kingdom of Israel, after David & Solomon’s time, that demonstrates this. [SLIDE 5] “Some time later there was an incident involving a vineyard belonging to Naboth the Jezreelite.The vineyard was in Jezreel, close to the palace of Ahab king of Samaria.Ahab said to Naboth, "Let me have your vineyard to use for a vegetable garden, since it is close to my palace.In exchange I will give you a better vineyard or, if you prefer, I will pay you whatever it is worth." [SLIDE 6] But Naboth replied, "The LORD forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers." So Ahab went home, sullen and angry because Naboth the Jezreelite had said, "I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers." He lay on his bed sulking and refused to eat.His wife Jezebel came in and asked him, "Why are you so sullen? Why won’t you eat?" [SLIDE 7] He answered her, "Because I said to Naboth the Jezreelite, ‘Sell me your vineyard; or if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard in its place.’ But he said, ‘I will not give you my vineyard.’" Jezebel his wife said, "Is this how you act as king over Israel? Get up and eat! Cheer up.I’ll get you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite."” (1Ki 21:1-7)
    And, she did - she wrote to the town officials and had them ‘frame’ Naboth, having him accused falsely and stoned. So wicked King Ahab went to take possession of dead Naboth’s vineyard. But God saw all this and rebuked the graspy greedy couple. [SLIDE 11] “Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite: "Go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who rules in Samaria.He is now in Naboth’s vineyard, where he has gone to take possession of it.Say to him, ‘This is what the LORD says: Have you not murdered a man and seized his property?’ Then say to him, ‘This is what the LORD says: In the place where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, dogs will lick up your blood— yes, yours!’"” (1Ki 21:17-19)
    Obviously in God’s eyes it was wrong for even the king to seize another man’s property that belonged to his family inheritance. Particularly when that involved murdering the man! So, just because a person has an important position in the state, that doesn’t put them above the law.

AN EMPEROR MEETS THE REAL SOVEREIGN

There are nations, and then there are empires - much broader superpowers that have subjugated a whole series of formerly independent countries. A famous empire was that of Babylon. Daniel chapter 4 gives us some insight into what the chief person in that empire learned about who really rules. King Nebuchadnezzar suffered a dramatic downgrade when he let his ego get puffed up and forgot how much his greatness was due to God’s will. [SLIDE 13] “Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, "Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?" The words were still on his lips when a voice came from heaven, "This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes."” (Da 4:29-32)
    [SLIDE 12] Here’s an artist’s concept of what the king may have been reduced to look like during that time! But at the end of the appointed number of years, Nebuchadnezzar’s sanity was restored and he praised and honoured the Most High saying (4:34f), “His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation.All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing.He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth...”
    A few weeks ago when we asked, “Who is God?” we found the Bible emphasized His sovereignty. Particularly where the State is concerned - Jesus is ‘Lord of lords’(1Tim 6:15; Rev 17:14). [SLIDE 17] The book of Proverbs states, “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.A divine decision is in the lips of the king...” (16:9f) “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.” (21:1) [SLIDE 18] Daniel 2:21, God “sets up kings and deposes them.” Romans 9(17) points out God addressing Pharaoh, “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display My power in you and that My name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So in the Biblical view, nations are certainly under, and accountable to, God.
    Queen Victoria was just 18 years old when she ascended the throne. But on the day in 1837 in which she learnt that she was Queen, she wrote in her diary: “Since it has pleased Providence to place me in this station I shall do my utmost to fulfill my duties towards my country.I am very young and perhaps in many, though not in all things, inexperienced, but I am sure that very few have more real good-will and more real desire to do what is fit and right than I have.” She was a woman of conscience and character. We can see her recognition of and submission to God through her words such as “it has pleased Providence to place me”, “my duties towards my country”, “what is fit and right.”

LIMITING THE KING’S “TAKE”

When the nation of Israel started out, it didn’t even have a human king. Only after the time of the Judges, when the prophet Samuel’s sons “turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice” (1Sam 8:3), did the people start demanding a king to lead them. Samuel prayed to the Lord, who reassured Samuel the people weren’t rejecting the prophet, but God Himself as their king. Then Samuel warned the people what the consequences of having a king would be – listen for all the times the phrase “he will take” is repeated: [SLIDE 22] “This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots.Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots.” (1Sa 8:11-12) [SLIDE 23] “He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers.He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants.He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants.Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use.He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves.” (1Sa 8:13-17) Take - take - take: not only would the people be poorer as a result, the king might even risk encroaching on God’s portion by demanding the ‘best’ of the produce and livestock.
    Who sets the limits to what the king - or state - can “take”? Where does the state’s jurisdiction stop? [SLIDE 25] Abraham Kuyper promoted the concept of “sphere sovereignty” - within the economy of God’s design, the state does NOT have the right to usurp the authority of the other social spheres - family, church, labour, God-and-man - in terms of their own specific purposes. For example, the government has no rightful jurisdiction over the church sphere. When asked about taxes to Rome Jesus said, “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Luke 20:25) You can tell He’s implying there are limits to what Caesar can claim.
    Uzziah was a vigorous and able king of Judah who had a prosperous and long reign - 52 years. But his great success led to him becoming ‘uppity’. 2Chronicles 26(15ff) tells us, “His fame spread far and wide, for he was greatly helped until he became powerful. [SLIDE 26] “But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the LORD his God, and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense.Azariah the priest with eighty other courageous priests of the LORD followed him in.They confronted him and said, "It is not right for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD.That is for the priests, the descendants of Aaron, who have been consecrated to burn incense.Leave the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful; and you will not be honored by the LORD God."” [SLIDE 27] “Uzziah, who had a censer in his hand ready to burn incense, became angry.While he was raging at the priests in their presence before the incense altar in the LORD’s temple, leprosy broke out on his forehead. When Azariah the chief priest and all the other priests looked at him, they saw that he had leprosy on his forehead, so they hurried him out.Indeed, he himself was eager to leave, because the LORD had afflicted him.” (2Ch 26:19f) Uzziah made the mistake of trying to overstep the boundary between church and state - supposing that being king somehow gave him religious privilege, too.
    [SLIDE 31] Dr Del Tackett in The Truth Project diagrams the relationship between God, King, and Citizens this way. You may recognize some parallels to the Trinity (Father, Son, and Spirit); the Family (Husband, wife, children); and Church (Christ, leaders, members). The King is subject to God, and citizens are subject to the king, and to God.
POWER AND SUBMISSION - IN KINGDOM PERSPECTIVE
How does the New Testament describe the relationship that ought to exist between citizens and leaders of the state? [SLIDE 32] In Romans 13, Paul talks about delegation of authority, submission, and the purpose of the state. [SLIDE 33] “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.[REMEMBER - SUBMISSION IS NOT A ‘DIRTY WORD’ - IT’S A GOOD THING FOR DRIVERS TO ‘SUBMIT’ TO THE RULES OF THE ROAD! NOTE THAT WHAT HE’S JUST SAID NEGATIVELY ABOUT GOD’S ESTABLISHMENT OF AUTHORITY, HE NOW RE-STATES POSITIVELY] The authorities that exist have been established 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.For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. [SLIDE 34] Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good.But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing.He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, [HEAR HIM EMPHASIZING THAT ‘GOD’S SERVANT’ THEME? 3X] who give their full time to governing.” (Ro 13:1-6)
    [SLIDE 35] There’s a delegation of authority and submission going on here that reflects what happens within the Trinity, within the dynamic of God’s own being. God the Father delegated authority to the Son; [SLIDE 37] Jesus prayed in John 17(2), “For You granted Him authority over all people that He might give eternal life to all those You have given Him.” [SLIDE 38] Of the end-time Paul writes, “Then comes the end, when (Christ) delivers the kingdom to God the Father...For ‘God has put all things in subjection under His feet.” [SLIDE 39] “When He has done this, then the Son Himself will be made subject to Him who put everything under Him, so that God may be all in all.”
    Where power and authority are concerned, being ‘subject’ and ‘submitting’ are key postures. The Son willingly is subject to the Father. So Paul can write in Titus [SLIDE 40] of wives being ‘subject’ to their husbands, bondslaves ‘subject’ to their masters, and people ‘subject’ to their rulers. So Christians aren’t exempt from serving the state where appropriate; [SLIDE 41] we’re to pay taxes, pay respect, give honour (Rom 13:7), and as Peter says, “Fear God, honour the king.” (1Peter 2:17) We submit ourselves because the authorities have responsibility and power delegated to them by God as His servants to maintain order in a healthy fashion in society.

WHEN POWER CORRUPTS, HORRORS HAPPEN

Paul used the phrase, the one in authority “does not bear the sword for nothing.” This ‘bearing the sword’ aspect makes things particularly scarey when authorities get off-track. [SLIDE 45] Romans 13 sets forth 2 aspects for the purpose of the Civil Authority: 1) Punish evil - the authority is “an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (13:4); and 2) Condone good - “do what is right and he will commend you.” (13:3) This of course ASSUMES some yardstick for determining what is “evil” and what is “good”. The civil authority must know the basis for calling something good or evil.
    Exactly here is where secular society hits a serious snag. [SLIDE 46] Law must be based upon ethics; but as we’ve seen, the evolutionary view and naturalism undercut any convincing basis for ethics. Darwin and Nietsche predicted violence would result from the adoption of the theory that “God is dead”; Dostoyevsky observed that if there is no God, then ‘anything goes’. Consequently, atheistic totalitarian states can be deadly to an astounding degree! [SLIDE 47] Here are some stats by Rummel of “Death by government”: Joseph Stalin 42M; Mao Zedong 37M; Adolf Hitler 20M; Chiang Kai-shek 10M; Vladimir Lenin and Hideki Tojo each 4M; Pol Pot 2M. In short, [SLIDE 48] “Almost 170 million men, women and children have been shot, beaten, tortured, knifed, burned, starved, frozen, crushed or worked to death; buried alive, drowned, hung, bombed or killed in any other of a myriad of ways governments have inflicted death on unarmed, helpless citizens and foreigners.” Ghastly! How our despots and cruelty to our fellow man must make God weep!

PRESERVING CULTURE FROM GOING ‘OFF’

[SLIDE 55] There is an ideological and spiritual war on in which the enemy would promote the idea of God’s absence, and swell the state to assume authority over other spheres. So that we would have “the state as God” [SLIDE 57] or even further-flung yet, the rise of the “Global State” [SLIDE 60]. This follows logically from humanistic philosophy [SLIDE 54]: Man by nature is ‘good’ and perfectible; mental health can be obtained by getting in touch with one’s real ‘good’ self; social institutions are responsible for man’s evil actions. So - replace those institutions (such as the church) with purely secular social agencies. So people will start to look to the state to save them, rather than God. [SLIDE 56] Philosopher Hegel wrote, “The Universal is to be found in the State...The State is the Divine Idea as it exists on earth...We must therefore worship the State as the manifestation of the Divine on earth, and consider that, if it is difficult to comprehend Nature, it is harder to grasp the Essence of the State...the State is the march of God through the world...” Some frightening phrases there – “we must therefore worship the state” / “the state is the march of God”!
    What has happened to other major civilizations in history when they forgot God? Edward Gibbon wrote Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. [SLIDE 71] He noted 5 attributes that marked Rome at its end – are we seeing any of these today? A mounting love of show and luxury; an obsession with sex, including homosexuality; [SLIDE 72] freakishness in the arts, masquerading as originality, and enthusiasms pretending to be creativity; an increased desire to live off the state. Do we really want to decay along with Rome? But secular thinking sets us up for exactly that!
    Os Guinness notes that when Truth is lost, all that’s left is manipulation. Turning away from God, people run instead to the State to be their saviour. Israel turned away and sought a king like all the other nations. [SLIDE 73] God said to Samuel: “It is not you they have rejected, Samuel, but they have rejected Me as their king.”

A SERVANT NOT PROUD

I’d like to close with one other illustration from the life of Queen Victoria. It’s a delightful little incident that shows this monarch over the world’s largest empire of the time was not too proud to be hospitable and caring to a guest.
    Queen Victoria was once at a diplomatic reception in London. The guest of honour was an African chieftain. All went well during the meal until, at the end, finger bowls were served. The guest of honour had never seen a British finger bowl, and no one had thought to brief him beforehand about its purpose. So he took the bowl in his two hands, lifted it to his mouth, and drank its contents down!
    For an instant there was breathless silence among the British privileged guests, and then they began to whisper to one another. That all stopped, however, when Queen Victoria silently took her finger bowl in her two hands, lifted it, and drank its contents! A moment later 500 surprised British ladies and gentlemen simultaneously drank the contents of their own fingerbowls. Let’s pray.