The Law of God and Public Policy, Part 9
By: T. M. Moore|Published: August 21, 2012 11:23 AM
An Unchanging Standard
God is God
The second law of the logic of public policy underscores the point that the people are not God. The vox populi must not be regarded as the final bar of appeal in matters of public policy. Yet this is what we see happening increasingly in our day. Those who are entrusted with public office are prone to following public opinion polls in crafting laws and statutes. In so doing they show either that they regard the demands of the people as of ultimate authority in matters of public policy, or their own political longevity as best served by succumbing to the whims of the majority.
But rulers are not God, and therefore must not consider themselves to have the last word on what is best for the people. And the people are not God; their voice must not be the determining voice in public policy decision-making.
God is God, and rulers must look to Him for unchanging standards of goodness and justice. The second law of the logic of public policy is thus that those public policies will be good which conform to God’s standards.
In ancient Israel this meant that rulers had to be students of the Law of God, reading and meditating in it daily. Not only the kings of Israel but also the local elders and judges who ruled from the gates of the city were expected to be conversant with the teaching of God’s Law and skilled in applying it to the needs of the community.
In the early years of the American experiment, rulers understood that the wisdom of God’s Law should not be neglected or transgressed in making public policy. Granted, rulers did not always demonstrate the best understanding of God’s Law, or even the fairest and best use of it – as witness their views on slavery and Native Americans, among other matters. Nevertheless, it is clear from perusing colonial statutes and even the general framework and contents of the Constitution that the Founding Fathers of this republic understood that God’s Law and Word is a source of wisdom not to be excluded from discussions of public policy.
God’s Word is good
The Law of God is holy and righteous and good (Rom. 7:12). Since it is also part of Scripture – indeed, the very cornerstone of divine special revelation – we should also look to the Law to equip us for every good work, including the good work of public policy-making (2 Tim. 3:15-17). We have seen that God intended His Law as a standard of goodness and wisdom for all nations, and that our own nation still recognizes the value of God’s Law in a variety of ways.
The alternative to the fixed, unchanging standard of the Law of God – rightly understood – is whatever moral and ethical standards the spirit of the age may abide. But this can easily become a means by which public officials may advance their own interests, or special interest groups their individual agendas, without adding anything of lasting good to the common weal.
Believers in Jesus Christ must not allow the unchanging standards of goodness, revealed in God’s Law, to be obscured by the self-interest of public officials or the clamoring of special interest groups and the electorate in general. We insist that the spiritus mundi is not a reliable standard for policy-making; at the same time, we will work to persuade officials and the electorate alike of the goodness, justice, and peace to be discovered in following the teaching of God’s Law, rightly understood.
The danger of democracy
Not only does this represent an inversion of the proper leadership roles of a nation – governments are supposed to lead, not follow – but it is also a perversion of the divine standard for good public policy. Unless God has the last word on what government needs to implement in the way of laws, regulations, and so forth, all laws become subject to whim and the shifting foci of power politics. Governments govern well when they enact policies which promote what is good – what is in line with God’s view of how the world should be (cf. Genesis 1 and the frequently repeated, “God saw that it was good”).
This is why familiarity with God’s Law and Word is so important, beginning among the members of the Christian community. How shall we weigh the demands of the people and decide what are the true needs of the day? Not, as we have seen, in a way that merely benefits those who hold public office. And not in a way that panders to the whims and fancies of the populace. Christians will insist that all matters of public policy are to be guided, shaped, and conformed to the teaching of God’s standards of goodness. Government cannot fulfill the requirements of its good purpose apart from familiarity with and input from the good Law of God. It is thus the duty of those who have been entrusted with the Law of God to make its good teaching and blessings known to those who are called as His servants for good.
Doubtless this position will seem untenable to many and likely to elicit cries of “Theocracy!” from those who prefer to make public policy according to the temper of the times. But if the Law of God were removed from the Western legal tradition, including the legal foundations of our own nation, much that is stable and good about law and public policy in the present would cease to exist.
Christians must demonstrate the value of God’s Law in their own lives and communities. And they must patiently work to persuade their neighbors of the benefits God’s Law – again, the spirit rather than the letter of the Law – can bring to the nation as a whole. Then they must take up the difficult work of helping to shape public policy according to the teachings of God’s Law, concerning which we shall have more to say in subsequent installments in this series.
The second law of the logic of public policy can thus be simply phrased: Those policies are good which conform to the teaching of God’s Law and Word. Period.
Next steps: How do your fellow believers understand Paul’s teaching in Romans 13 about government being a servant of God for good? Ask around. What standard of “good” should government follow in making public policy? Does the Law of God enter into this conversation? Should it?
For more insight to this topic, order Chuck Colson’s book, God & Government, from our online store. You can download a free PDF series by T. M. on the topic, “The Government We Seek,” seven studies outlining a Biblical view of good government. It’s available here at no charge.