On The Necessity Of Government

Generally speaking, it can be fairly said that I am no friend to government.  As a person of fairly high levels of native cynicism about humanity in general, my default feelings for those who seek and obtain positions of authority within civil government or the hierarchy of other institutions tends not to be particularly high.  Be that as it may, there are few people who are more convinced than I am of the necessity of government.  From time to time this issue comes up in surprising ways.  For example, a minister for the church organization I attended gave a well-regarded message that appears to have concluded that there was no government necessary between God and Jesus Christ.  What I propose to do today is to briefly talk about the necessity of government and comment on some of the reasons why it is necessary and what the necessity of government has to say about us as human beings and about the meaning of government in the broader scale, in such a way that cynicism about how government is often related to the necessity but undesirability of much of government in general.

First of all, let us ask whether there was government when the universe consisted of only God the Father and Jesus Christ.  The Bible does not give a great deal of detail about this but would indicate that there was indeed government during this time.  Proverbs 30:4 tells us:  “Who has ascended into heaven, or descended?  Who has gathered the wind in His fists?  Who has bound the waters in a garment?  Who has established all the ends of the earth?  What is His name, and what is His Son’s name, if you know?”  From this passage we see that God and Jesus Christ were considered before the incarnation as being Father and Son.  This model of government is family government, and demonstrates that even the presence of God in two beings who did not have any inclination or bent towards evil required some sort of government in a basic sense.  We know from scripture that Jesus Christ was subordinated to the Father as a son is obedient to the will of a father here on earth [1].

Wherever there is more than one being, there needs to be some sort of government.  This is simply because someone’s will must be subordinate and someone else’s will must prevail.  Even in an egalitarian society or partnership that seeks to divide tasks between equals, there needs to be government because a compact or constitution or contractual relationship is itself a government, namely an agreement on the part of more than one person to be bound by the terms of the agreement that the two of them have made.  Indeed, covenants themselves are signs of the existence of government.  This government is not tyrannical or arbitrary, because the existence of terms demonstrates the limits of authority in that relationship, but it demonstrates the existence of government nonetheless.  When two or more people exist, government is necessary because either one or more beings must be subordinate to others or because all of the beings must subordinate themselves to a common compact or treaty or covenant that governs them all.  In either case, government exists of one type or another.  And, as we can see when we look at human history, there are a wide variety of types of government but all of them depend on mutually recognized authorities before whom people submit their own wills and whose judgment they accept.

However, with human beings, even where there is only one human being there is need of government.  And that sad reality is the case because human beings find themselves divided against themselves, in large part due to our native rebelliousness against God and His ways.  Just as redemption and salvation requires us to repent of our rebellious ways and to submit our will to God’s, so to self-government is necessary for mankind to do anything at all [2].  It is not merely that to obey God we must restrain the evil and corrupt tendencies that are within us, even if this is self-evident.  It is that whatever ultimate will and purpose we submit ourselves to it itself an aspect of government, even if we are ourselves alone with no one else in authority over us.  If we were alone on a deserted island, we would still have need of government even as solitary beings.  If we set for ourselves the goal of survival, we would submit to the need to act according to that will, which would determine our behavior in the actions we would take to ensure ourselves food and fresh water and shelter and the avoidance of that which would threaten our existence.  We may even subordinate ourselves to our search for sexual desire, or our will to power, or any other number of wicked purposes.  Self-government and subordination need not be for good purposes or good ends, but some sort of self-government is absolutely necessary because some will in our lives will prevail, even if that will is a lazy one that desires not to be bothered at all except to play video games and eat and drink and carouse to our heart’s content.

Once we have conceded the necessity of government, it remains to be seen what sort of government we will have.  Government can exist in a great many forms as well as very distinct levels of severity.  To the extent that we are more strict in self-government to restrain ourselves from folly and evil, we need far less external restraint on our behavior.  Where we have demonstrated that we lack sufficient restraint to keep ourselves out of trouble, parents and jailers are generally content to place external restraints upon us in one fashion or another, be it grounding or the removal of privileges or confinement within buildings and cells.  Whether we are members of families dealing with parental authority or spouses dealing with authority as it exists in marriage or whether we are members of congregations that have structure, or whether we work for companies where we are under authority of our supervisors and bosses or boards of directors, or whether we are entrepreneurs facing the authority of customers whose payments are required for our operations to remain solvent, or whether we are volunteers dealing with organizational rules and structure or whether we deal with civil authority, at no point in our lives are we free of the necessity of some sort of government.  Whether we internalize this need for government and become trustworthy people whose word can be relied, or whether we chafe under the external restraint we are forced into because of our lack of self-government, we will be under government, whether it is of our own choosing or not.

Even conceding the necessity of government, though, we do not necessarily need the precise sort of government and authority that we find ourselves under.  The fact that we are corrupt and naturally rebellious beings requires government even when we are solitary beings, and as we have seen there is government and subordination even when two beings of moral perfection exist.  A great many authorities may think themselves as being like God to those they are in authority over, forgetting the wide difference in moral achievement between the perfection of God the Father and our elder brother Jesus Christ and our own more limited moral development.  A great many authorities on this earth forfeit their legitimacy by making rules that they seek to enforce on others that they are unwilling to obey themselves.  Still other authorities recognize their own moral failings and fail to rule over others as is their responsibility because of the obviousness of their own failures in self-government.  There are many ways where authority can go wrong, and it is inevitable in that as we are imperfect beings that we will rule imperfectly when we are in positions of authority, as most of us will have at some point in our lives or another in some realm.  And the fact that government is both necessary and inevitably flawed accounts for a great deal of the drama and conflict that exists within our lives.

[1] It is worthwhile, though, to point out this subordination in more detail, although I have mentioned it elsewhere.  John 1:14 tells us:  “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”  Here we see Jesus emptying Himself of the prerogatives office so that He may humbly become flesh and dwell among His creation, an aspect of subordination.  John 6:44 tells us of the supremacy of the Father when it comes to the calling of believers:  “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.”  John 10:17-18 tells us:  ““Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again.  No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.””  The fact that Jesus Christ has received commands from God indicates that God the Father is in authority over Him.  Throughout the Gospel of John, as we have seen, Jesus Christ subordinated Himself to His father even as they were equally God beings.  

[2] Paul goes through this in some detail in Romans 7:18-25, for example:  “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.  For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.  Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.  I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good.  For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man.  But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.  O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?  I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!  So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.”

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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2 Responses to On The Necessity Of Government

  1. Catharine E. Martin says:

    All we know in this wicked time period is unrighteous government–because man is at the helm. Even the best form is wrong at the core because there is no will to do what is divinely good. God’s form of government is something nearly all of mankind cannot fathom because it is based on what is in the best interest of the people over whom it rules–something never before enforced. The perfect balance between linear and lateral government will be established because it will be a familial rulership–a patriarchal family business. There will be perfect love among those in power and those who demonstrate it. The Father must always be at the helm because it is He who gives us His Name.

    • The only solution to the dilemma of government being necessary and also generally problematic is for the human authorities over us to recognize that they themselves are accountable to God for enforcing His laws and ways and in recognizing a higher authority that restrains themselves. Only when government operates with restraint and wisdom can it then gain the legitimacy it seeks from others.

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