With election day just around the corner here in the U.S. it might be worth our while to take a look at what Scripture has to say about government. The Book of Proverbs in particular, most of it written by a king (Solomon), brings an interesting perspective to bear on the subject.
We might begin by asking, what is the purpose and function of government? Why do we need government, and what is a government supposed to accomplish? We are all familiar with the language of the Declaration of Independence, which asserts that we have a natural right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and that “to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Accordingly the preamble to the U.S. Constitution states, “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
The Bible, however, presents a somewhat different picture. Human beings are prone toward sin, and this tends to result in social chaos. Without some form of government we would be at each other’s throats, and in the end it would be the criminals who control society.
“When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices;
And when the wicked perish, there is jubilation.
By the blessing of the upright the city is exalted,
But it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked.”
(Prov. 11:10,11; NKJV)
In other words, when the wicked prevail we have a situation in which evil appears to be rewarded and virtue punished. Crime pays and nice guys finish last. And when that happens all of society becomes corrupt and unjust.
Therefore the chief function of government is to administer justice. “Open your mouth, judge righteously, / And plead the cause of the poor and needy” (Prov. 31:9). “The poor and the needy” are the weak and vulnerable elements of society, the one who are the most likely to get taken advantage of by the rich and powerful. Thus one of the key functions of government is to protect the weak from the strong. Its decisions, especially in judicial proceedings, must be based on what is right, not on who has the most influence.
When a good government is in power justice and social stability are the result. “A king who sits on the throne of judgment / Scatters all evil with his eyes” (20:8). “The king establishes the land by justice, / But he who receives bribes overthrows it” (29:4). On the other hand, “It is an abomination for kings to commit wickedness, / For a throne is established by righteousness” (16:12).
“Like a roaring lion and a charging bear
Is a wicked ruler over poor people.
A ruler who lacks understanding is a great oppressor,
But he who hates covetousness will prolong his days.”
What will often ruin the effectiveness of a government are bad advisers. “If a ruler pays attention to lies, / All his servants become wicked” (29:12). “Take away the wicked from before the king, / And his throne will be established in righteousness’ (25:5).
Moreover, what is needed in a ruler besides integrity is wisdom. In Proverbs 8:14-16 wisdom personified speaks and says,
“Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom;
I am understanding, I have strength.
By me kings reign,
And rulers decree justice.
By me princes rule, and nobles,
All the judges of the earth.”
Government involves some of the most difficult decisions that mortal human beings are ever called upon to make. Laws are passed, policy decisions are made, and court decisions are handed down, many with far-reaching consequences that we can scarcely foresee. In some cases life and death hang in the balance.
No government is perfect, of course, and there will inevitably be miscarriages of justice. But does that mean that we should cease to care what happens in the political realm? Not at all! For human governments are still accountable to God, the righteous Judge, for their actions, and He demands justice. “Many seek the rulers favor, / But justice for man comes from the Lord” (29:26).
In a democracy “we the people” are presumably the rulers. Our elected representatives supposedly make decisions on our behalf. The question is, will we choose our leaders wisely?