Government and Religion in God's Plan

A Short Theology of Government, Defense, and the use of force to protect the innocent

Government and Religion

In all ages, God's family must co-exist with those who choose to stay outside of the family. Therefore, God has set two complimentary forces at work in society: government (to govern all people) and religion (to govern God's family). Both government and religion have similar goals: to bring community and peace out of chaos and destruction. Yet, they use different tools to accomplish this. Government uses the police and physical force to control people's actions. Religion uses persuasion and the force of conscience to control people's actions. Also, they have different areas of oversight. God made government to use justice to protect people and property from crime and physical violence. God made religion to protect people from immorality and evil that is not physically abusive, and help them do good instead. For example, government protects people from the physical crimes of murder and theft by legal force.

Religion, on the other hand, persuades people away from hatred and jealousy that cause these crimes, and urges them toward Love. Likewise, it is the Government's responsibility to make sure that society is safe enough for people to pursue Love, life, and purpose. It is Religion's responsibility to lead people to Love, life, and purpose in Christ. Because of this, it is the role of religion to help the needy through charity, because only religion can truly give purpose and love with charity.

Separate roles, separate responsibilities

Since government's role is to maintain justice through legal force, it should not try to take the role of religion (and likewise religion should not take the role of government). When government seeks to give charity, it creates a welfare state where people become "entitled" to handouts as a matter of justice. The people loose all sense of meaning in life and become slaves to the government for their livelihood. Likewise, when religion seeks to enforce moral standards through the force of the police, it only results in outward conformity to the Law without an inward relationship with God. Both of these faults are demonstrated by the failure of Israel in the Old Testament, and the failure of many modern Communist governments and state welfare programs. God's people must make sure that government is regulated by the Biblical principals that ensure justice, freedom, and peace for all, through the proper use of physical force by the police. It is also our responsibility to make sure that religion is regulated by the Biblical principals that ensure morality, mercy, and Love for all, through the proper use of persuasion by its pastors. Because of this, it is our duty to pay taxes to our government, tithe to our religion, and vote and hold office in each to stand for what we know is right. Yet, when either government or religion is doing something contrary to the role God has given them, it is our job to speak out and protest without violence, no matter what the consequences may be.

Government, justice, and protection of the innocent

Is it right to allow a man abuse his family, steal from his neighbors, attack them, and threaten them with weapons? What if this man broke into your house and attacked your family? What if it wasn't a man, but government that abused its citizens, and threatened and attacked other countries? It is relatively easy to fulfill the command not to murder when dealing with sane people who are at least somewhat concerned with goodness and Love. Yet, living in a fallen world, we must also deal with people who care nothing about Love, goodness, or other people. We must face the reality that there are people, and governments, who cannot be reasoned with, and who are bent on wealth, power, evil, and destruction. The Bible, and History, makes it abundantly clear that they must be stopped physically or else they will harm and murder others. Because of this God has given government, and only government, the power of the "sword" to be God's minister of wrath to punish evildoers. The purpose of this punishment is first and foremost to protect the innocent from harm and death. God identifies with the helpless and the innocent, and desires their protection from those who would harm them. God wants to protect all life, but it is a higher good to protect the life of the innocent, than to protect the life of the guilty. God's perfect will is that no one is killed, even if they are guilty of evil. Yet, if the only choice is between killing the guilty to protect the innocent, or allowing the guilty to live and put the innocent in danger, God has given government the power to stop the guilty with whatever means are necessary. God's command not to murder refers to unjustly taking another's life for personal gain, and is differentiated from killing to protect the innocent. The second purpose of punishment is to teach others not to do evil. Many people (and nations) are discouraged from doing evil after they see the consequences these acts bring to others. The final purpose of punishment is, if possible, to reform criminals so they turn from evil and change for the good. Yet, if trying to reform evildoers puts the innocent in danger, reform is not possible. Understanding government's divine mandate to protect the innocent is the key to understanding how government protects its own citizens from crime, and protects the world from evil governments.

Crime and punishment

God has appointed government over us to protect us from crime, and to provide us with a safe environment of "peace and quiet" so that we can seek Christ and share His Love. Yet, there are those people in society who will lie, cheat, steal, and kill to get what they want. In the act of theft, assault, or murder, a person moves beyond something that is morally wrong into a criminal act that forcibly, physically, takes life away from another person. To stop this evil, God has endowed the government with physical force to capture and punish these criminals. Only by capturing criminals, and forcibly excluding them from society, can the innocent be protected from their evil. To protect its citizens and administer just punishment for crimes, government must use the following principals: First, suspected criminals should be taken into custody as quickly as possible (to protect society), using as little physical force as possible to do the job (to protect the suspected criminal). Second, suspected criminals should only be punished after being fairly tried for their crime and found guilty. Third, criminals should only be found guilty based on overwhelming evidence, and collaborated by the testimony of two or more witnesses. Fourth, the punishment should fit the crime, not too severe or too soft. God specifies that punishment should be in proportion to the crime (an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth). If possible, the criminal should pay back the victim for their losses. Fifth, the convicted criminal should be held in prison until they are no longer a threat to society. Sixth, if the criminal is so dangerous that keeping them alive will endanger society or those in prison with them, they should be put to death. The death penalty should never be given as "revenge" for a crime committed, but should only be done to protect people from violent criminals. The need to use the death penalty as protection for society is demonstrated by the thousands of times criminals have been released, or escaped, from prison only to kill and steal again. It would be preferable to avoid execution and hold these criminals for life without parole, but no such prison system has ever existed, and even if it did, dangerous criminals could still escape. Also, many times when professional criminals (such as gang leaders) are imprisoned, they still remain powerful, plan crimes from inside prison, kill other inmates, and intimidate prison officials. Putting them to death is a lesser evil than allowing criminals to continue victimizing other people.

Self defense and defending others

There are times when we will be confronted with evil and violence, and will not have the time or the ability to seek the government to protect us. If someone breaks into our house, attacks us, or endangers someone we Love, we need to know how to react. If a person merely insults us, or someone we love, we must bear the insult in Love without striking back. This is what Jesus meant when He said if someone "slaps you on one cheek, turn the other also". In Jesus' day, a slap on one cheek was a harsh insult, and the only way to overcome an insult is by Love and forgiveness, not by trying to "get even". If someone tries to forcibly steal from us or someone we Love, we must bear the insult and allow them to steal our property. This is what Jesus meant when He said if someone wants to "take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well". Property is less valuable than people, therefore we should not risk harming ourselves or the criminal to get our property back. Yet, once the theft is over, we must report it to the government authorities, so they can find and punish the criminal, and stop them from harming others. While Jesus wants us to bear insult and theft in Love, He does not want us to be injured or killed if not absolutely necessary. His command to "turn the other cheek" referred to enduring insults, not allowing life-threatening abuse or violence. Furthermore, the Lord has commanded us to protect the innocent if possible, just like Jesus did when He used physical force to drive the money-changers out of the temple. If we, or someone we Love, are confronted with physical violence that could endanger our lives, we must act in self-defense until we can get to safety. It is our responsibility to use as much force as we need (but not more) to stop physical harm to ourselves or others. Once we have done this, we must not try to "win" the fight, but instead escape to safety, and call on the governing authorities to capture the criminal.

Justice and civil disobedience

Once we are out of danger, we must not seek to get revenge on the criminal, because this is contrary to the Love of Christ. "Taking the law into our own hands" directly disobeys Christ, and perpetuates a never-ending cycle of personal revenge and violence. Vengeance and justice is never up to us individually. Instead, we must entrust the criminal to God's justice, and allow God's servant, the government, to find them and bring them to justice. Because we allow our emotions to lead us astray, and are prone to mistakes in judgment, individual persons and organizations are not able to punish criminals with justice. That is why God uses government, backed by the communal wisdom of the whole society, as His tool to administer justice and punishment. But if government is unjust and does not do its job, we must use non-violent means to try and change it. Hopefully, we can change things through voting and democracy. If that fails (or is unavailable, as in many countries) we must try protests, sit-ins, strikes, lawsuits, and publicity through newspaper, radio, television, and the Internet. Above all, we must pray that God would change our government and give us peace, justice, and protection. When we peacefully protest against the government, God also calls us to live with the consequences of these protests, which can include arrest or even worse. Sadly, many governments have tried to silence protest by imprisoning, torturing, and killing their own citizens. If this happens to us because we are standing for Truth and justice, we must endure the persecution through the strength of Christ. We must live in Love, endure with Hope, and die for Truth if necessary. All the while we must put our Faith in Christ and pray to Him to change our government. History shows that God eventually answers all of these prayers, and changes unjust governments through peaceful overthrow, or through warfare.

War and peace

War is best understood as a police action on a societal scale, to protect whole populations of innocent people from the evil of unjust governments. Some advocate complete "pacifism", which is the idea that all war is wrong at all times. Complete pacifism neglects the divine command to protect the innocent and help others whenever it is in our power to do so. If pacifism is pushed too far, it can even become cowardly, unloving, and contrary to the Gospel of life. An example of this happened when the United States pulled out of Cambodia to avoid war, and allowed the Cambodian government to slaughter over six million of its own people. Many object to war because they say there are always other alternatives, such as negotiation, protest, and economic sanctions (which take away money and trade to force an unjust government to comply with justice). Many times, these alternatives do work, war can be avoided, and the innocent can be protected. Yet, the reality is that there are some governments that cannot be negotiated with. They will lie, cheat, steal, and kill to get what they want, and peaceful sanctions may anger them to attack instead. Another objection to war is that modern technology and weapons of mass destruction (such as nuclear and biological weapons) make it impossible to fight a war without destroying whole nations. This is not true, because while some weapons are more destructive, technology is also making other weapons safer than ever. There are now weapons that can shoot down nuclear warheads, and put bombs, missiles, and artillery within a meter of their target. These new weapons can pinpoint evildoers, protect the innocent, and stop weapons of mass destruction. A third objection to war is that there are always innocent bystanders who get hurt and killed in the process. While unintentional death is evil, it is a lesser evil than allowing an evil government to intentionally harm and kill innocent people. Proper military discipline and justice, along with accurate use of weapons, can keep unintended casualties to a minimum. A final objection to war is that violence can never bring about peace. This is simply not true because true peace can only be achieved after irrational criminals are forcibly stopped from spreading violence. War is like taking a drunk driver off the road. Drunk drivers cannot be reasoned with or allowed to stay behind the wheel, but must be forced off the road into a ditch to protect the innocent. War is always the lesser of two evils: the evil of destroying the innocent versus destroying criminals. There is "a time for war and a time for peace", and the goal of war should always be peace, so that government can fulfill its purpose of allowing us to live "peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness".

Just War

If war seems to be the only alternative left, it may be pursued according to the following principals: First, war must truly be a last means to peace. Every other alternative, such as negotiation, protest, and economic sanction, must be tried first. Second, war must be waged by the right authority, and not by individuals, organizations, or the Church. War can only be waged by a civil government that is "established by God" through the consent of the people. Third, war must have the right cause. The only right cause is to ensure the protection of the innocent. A government harms the innocent when it attacks another nation in order to gain more power or resources. A government may also harm the innocent by unjustly executing its own citizens, neglecting and starving them, and unjustly imprisoning or torturing them to silence their protests. All of these acts stop the ability of citizens to change their government through non-violent means. When this happens, the only way to stop that government becomes physical force. Fourth, war must have the right goal. The only right goal is to establish a new government of peace and justice, which allows its citizens non-violent methods to change it. After evil governments are defeated, it is the duty of the victors to help the loosing nation establish a new government and economic stability, so that they may stay peaceful. Fifth, war must have the right means. War cannot be fought unjustly or in a way that intentionally targets the innocent. The damage caused by the war must be less than what could have happened if the evil government was allowed to stay in power. People who are not in combat must be protected, and there can be no cruelty, rape, pillage, or stealing of property. Sixth, war must have the right timing. As soon as a government is unwilling to honestly negotiate, and unwilling to stop warfare or military buildup, it must be stopped by force. Tens of millions of lives could have been saved if Nazi Germany had been invaded in the 1930's when they were weaker, after they proved they would not negotiate honestly or stop their military buildup. Instead, we waited until they had invaded half of Europe, and began the holocaust, to try and stop them. When there is evidence that a nation is arming for war and will not stop, it is best to invade them before they are strong enough to attack other nations. Seventh, there must be a reasonable hope of victory. If going to war would almost certainly destroy our nation and not stop an evil government, it is best to wait and negotiate.

Scriptures for this Bible study

The Old Testament Law on intentional killing of other people. There is a difference between killing to protect life, and murdering to further selfish desires:

Deut. 5:17 You shall not murder.
+ murder/murderer = ratsach (kill with intent to destroy the innocent)

Numbers 35:30-31 'If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death at the evidence of witnesses, but no person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness. 'Moreover, you shall not take ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death.
+ kill = nakah (smite, beat, attack, destroy, kill)
+ murder/murderer = ratsach (kill with intent to destroy the innocent)
+ death = muth (natural death, ceasing to live)

Our duties toward the innocent and oppressed:

Proverbs 31:8-9 "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy."
+ Defend is a Hebrew word used for both non-violent and violent methods of defense

Jeremiah 7:5-7 If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever.

Proverbs 3:27 Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act.

Our personal duty to seek peace without personal vengeance:

Psalm 34:14 Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.

Romans 12:17-21 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Luke 6:27-31 "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

1 Tim. 2:1-2 I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.

Citizens must protest through non-violence when government transgresses the Law of God

Acts 4:19
But Peter and John replied, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. "

Acts 5:29
Peter and the other apostles replied: "We must obey God rather than men!"

There is a distinction between the spheres of authority for government and religion.

Matthew 22:17-21
[Someone asked Jesus] "Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, "You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax." They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?" "Caesar's," they replied. Then he said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."

John 17:15
My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.

John 17:18
As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.

John 17:20-21
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

John 18:36
Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place."

The essential role of government is to protect freedom and peace, so that we may have the right environment to seek Christ

1 Tim. 2:1-2
I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone-- for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

God has given government the role to protect freedom and peace through physical force, including "the sword", which is the power to inflict punishment and death

Romans 13:1-7
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.
2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you.
4 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.
5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.
6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing.
7 Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

1 Peter 2:13-17
Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority,
14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.
15 For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.
16 Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.
17 Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.

Immoral activities (i.e. sinful acts done between consenting adults) is punished by the force of government in the OT, but is dealt with by the persuasion of the Church in the NT

Leviticus 20:11 " 'If a man sleeps with his father's wife, he has dishonored his father. Both the man and the woman must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.

Leviticus 20:9 " 'If anyone curses his father or mother, he must be put to death. He has cursed his father or his mother, and his blood will be on his own head.

1 Cor. 5:1-2 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father's wife. And you are proud! Shouldn't you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this?

1 Tim. 5:8 If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Criminal activities (i.e. sinful acts that take away life and property from another person without their consent) are punished by physical force by the government in both the OT and the NT:

Romans 13:4 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.

Proverbs 20:8, 26
When a king sits on his throne to judge, he winnows out all evil with his eyes.
A wise king winnows out the wicked; he drives the threshing wheel over them.

1 Peter 2:14 Governors… are sent by [God] to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.

Punishment for crime must be proportionate to the damage inflicted, and impartial to race or socio-economic status:

Leviticus 24:19-22 If anyone injures his neighbor, whatever he has done must be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. As he has injured the other, so he is to be injured. Whoever kills an animal must make restitution, but whoever kills a man must be put to death. You are to have the same law for the alien and the native-born. I am the Lord your God."

Both Jesus and Paul accepted the government's authority to punish crime with the death penalty

Philip. 2:8
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross!

Acts 25:11
If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!"

How Jesus dealt with violence and use of force in His first coming. When evil was only directed at Him, He did not resist. Yet, when evil was directed at others, He sometimes used force to stop it:

John 18:10-11 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant's name was Malchus.) Jesus commanded Peter, "Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?"

John 2:14-16 In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!"

How Jesus will deal with war and death at the last Judgment:

Joel 3:9-14 Proclaim this among the nations: Prepare for war! Rouse the warriors! Let all the fighting men draw near and attack. Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears. Let the weakling say, "I am strong!" Come quickly, all you nations from every side, and assemble there. Bring down your warriors, O Lord! "Let the nations be roused; let them advance into the Valley of Jehoshaphat, for there I will sit to judge all the nations on every side. Swing the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, trample the grapes, for the winepress is full and the vats overflow-- so great is their wickedness!"

Isaiah 2:4 [The Messiah] will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples [at the last judgment]. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

The summary of it all:

Eccles. 3:1-10 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

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This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.