A friend of mine has written something brilliant, and this brilliance grew out of an ongoing email discussion that we were having about government and its relationship to the Christian. Now I feel I have to do some explaining to the readers who weren’t privy to the discussion, and also to do justice to his remarks. This friend is genuinely one of the most thoughtful guys I know, and I’m not just saying this because he reads my blog. Even when we disagree, he makes me think, and what more could you ask?
Although I do consider myself a libertarian, he does not. He wrote extensively on what he feels is a huge flaw in libertarian philosophy, and made some excellent points. He has been, in the past, highly critical of some people who espouse a philosophy of liberty but practice a philosophy of rebellion, and it’s an important distinction to draw since it is after all a condition of the heart. His take on most libertarians is that they say what they say not necessarily because they want liberty, but rather out of resentment towards any sort of authority (2 Pet 2:19, 2 Pet 2:10). I think that’s a valid observation, although it’s painting with a broad brush since any label you could pick would cover a lot of people who may not even agree with each other. But let me throw in my two cents, and we’ll see what happens. I apologize in advance if I am just hitting the high points of my overall thoughts on this, but I’m trying to cover a lot of ground here.
The source of all liberty is God (Luke 4:18, 2 Cor 3:17). The source of all authority is also God (1 Pet 3:22, Dan 3:28, Col 1:16). I believe in ‘natural rights’ although I’ve always found the term a little odd, because my rights are not derived from rocks and trees and rivers and streams, they come from God. They didn’t pop into existence in 1776. I have the right to property defined as assets that are specifically mine and God weighs in with a commandment of “Thou shalt not steal”. I have a right to life, and God confirms this with a commandment “Thou shalt not kill”. God couples these rights with accountability to him as to how I use them. After all, I wasn’t given eyes so that I could look at other men’s wives; I was given eyes so that I could perceive and marvel at his creation. I wasn’t given a voice so that I could gossip, I was given a voice to praise him with. Since they are my eyes and my voice, I can use them either way, but I will give an account either way (Gal 5:13).
In the meantime, he institutes governing authorities in my life and over my life. These range from my parents when I was a kid to my pastor to the local government to the court system to the federal government. Some people are born to better parents than others just as some are born under governments that allow more freedom than others. Some of these authorities are temporary, like my parents. Some of these authorities can be changed, like my pastor. Some require tremendous changes, like expatriation. But the fact is, somebody is always going to be in charge of you, to one degree or another, and this is God’s will.
When a people turn their back on God, generally speaking , they lose liberty (Prov 29:2). This is merely God withdrawing his favor from a people who do not want him. People get the government that reflects their willingness to serve God. . He does this in a variety of ways. Sometimes he allows corrupt people to seize the reins of power. Sometimes he allows an invading army to come in. All of these reductions in practical liberty are a result of God’s judgment on people who have misused their initial liberty. My favorite Biblical example is the Babylonian captivity, in which the children of Israel were rewarded for their idolatry by having a barbarian horde drag their children off in chains. This judgment went on for 70 years, and people saw their children, and grand children and great grandchildren grow up surrounded by idolatry because they had loved their idols so much. They had misused their liberty, so God took it away. But it would be incorrect to cite this as an example that God is against liberty. God is for both liberty, and authority, as they both work hand in hand in a people whose heart is after God.
If all that’s true, and I believe that it is, , then the real issue isn’t what Obama is going to do. The real issue is what are you going to do. If you are really in favor of liberty, then you have an obligation to live right, and obey the whole counsel of God, not just the parts you like or the parts line up with your philosophy (Psalm 119:45). The strong (and frankly mystifying) anti-God streak present in a lot of libertarian circles is the Achilles heel of the modern liberty movement, and it is quite likely the reason why we have not seen the sort of success God gave to the colonial Americans in re-establishing liberty.
So what, as a Christian, should be my position towards the authority God has put over my life? Should I be shouting for its overthrow? Should I be instigating violence against it? Should I browbeat and belittle it at every opportunity? Scripture is pretty clear on this. I am supposed to live the best life possible under my current situation, with the idea in sight that I will give account to God as to how I lived and fared under an oppressive corrupt system ( Eph 6:1-10). If I am in a position of authority, I should strive to be just. (2 Sam 23:3, Heb 13:17). I should police my own life to ensure that I am not the part of the reason for God’s favor turning from us. I should pray for the authority over me, not send out mocking emails (Jude 1:8). In those prayers, I don’t ask for their death, but rather that God will turn their hearts (Matt 5:44, Prov 21:1). In the meantime, I should try my best to live out the commandments of God as much as I can, and live under these temporary circumstances in light of an eternal reality. And for the record, I’m not particularly good at anything I just listed. I probably have a lot more rebellion in my heart than I realize.
Now I currently live under a system where I still have some ability to at least make my disagreement known. I have the right, under this authority, to protest policy. I have the right to call my Congressman, to vote, to make my voice heard. It is legitmate to point out when those in authority overstep their authority, but I don’t have the right, as a Christian, to rise up against what God has put over me (Titus 3:1). I am not required to be a yes-man or a lapdog to corrupt men, but I must be very careful as a Christian to not step over from disagreement into rebellion. I could go a bit further into where I think that line is, but that’s a topic for another time.
I also have friends who are 'anarchists' and 'stateless libertarians' and 'anarchocaps' and all sorts of other interesting labels. I encourage them to look up the verses, and by all means join the discusion.