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Christian Ethics and Social Order


By:  David Deschesne

Fort Fairfield Journal, July 4, 2007, p. 4

   When God created man and gave him free will, he set free a monster.  Man, having the freedom to do what he wants, has the freedom to do good and equal opportunity to do bad.  The reason for this free will was to allow for love, which can only be obtained for one by the conscious and freely-given decision of another.  God could have programmed us all to serve and love Him, but that would have been meaningless.  Surrounded by automatons doing only what they’re programmed nets no emotional gain to either party and squanders energy into a void of non-emotion.

   While man has the freedom to love, he also has the freedom to hate.  Aquinas says “good is what the appetite tends toward.”  Therefore, if I like pizza, it is good - to me.  The antithesis of good is bad, but that doesn’t always make bad evil.  It is good for the lion to eat the gazelle, since he derives much-needed nutrition from it, but it is “bad” for the gazelle from the gazelle’s point of view.  God has a way of always working things out and making good come from evil.

  Since man has the freedom to do good or evil to his fellow man, he also has the freedom to follow God’s plan or not.

  In 1 Samuel, Samuel placed his sons in control over his people.  His sons turned away from their father’s ways and began to lust after money, bribes and perverted judgments.  The Lord was using this to teach the people who refused to turn to Him in prayer and obedience in order to perfect their life of Faith.  However, the people didn’t want to trust God.  They demanded a “king” like all the other nations.  They wanted a king to make them feel comfortable, safe and secure.  What they didn’t realize is that a king, being just a man, not being led by the Lord, will be worse for them than what they had under Samuel’s sons who were used by the Lord for His ends.  Led by the Lord, the new king will inflict the same on them as they had before because the Lord is trying to work something out in them.

   Just because a person is king or leader, doesn’t automatically make him good.  Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “Social peace and order are established by a dominant group within some level of community; and this group is not exempt from the corruption of self-interest merely because the peace of society has been entrusted to it.”1   Niebuhr is essentially stating that just because we empower a person with a badge, black robe or other symbol of authority to keep the social peace, doesn’t mean that person will automatically become good, decent and not susceptible to bribes or indecent alliances with corporate boards to the detriment of society as a whole.  They are, after all, only human.

  The Apostle Paul in Romans 13 states every soul is subject to the power of God and those who resist that power are resisting God.  The legitimate higher powers we are to submit to according to Paul are “ministers of God’s word to thee for good.”2  

   Paul goes on in Hebrews to say, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable to you.”3   These people who “watch for our souls” and are “ministers of God’s word” are not a secular government that has turned its back on God, they are those in the community God has brought forward to lead and guide His people according to His word.   We are thus commanded to follow those who follow God as His “minister” - His shepherd.

A government comprised of men and women is as much obliged to follow the submission mandate in Romans 13 as those they serve. However, “the state is always tempted to set its majesty in rebellious opposition to the divine majesty.”4

   “The monarchies and aristocracies have always lived on the fiction that they exist for the good of the people, and yet it is an appalling fact how few kings have loved their people and have lived to serve.”5

   A government which has turned its back on God, no longer allows the teaching of His word in its schools, no longer allows His commandments to be posted in its courtrooms, no longer allows His symbols to be displayed on the public way and whose money no longer conforms to His “just weights and balances” mandate, have relinquished their position of divine authority as “ministers of God’s word to thee for good” and have become nothing more than an illegitimate band of ruffians.   God allows this to happen to a people or nation who has chosen not to follow His word and will.  The United States is a good example.  Looking around, one sees debauchery, corruption of morals, lack of interest in God’s word and many people turned to their own way.  Is it any surprise then to find our own government, a very few within it notwithstanding, has become a band of criminals as much as our common street thugs. 

   As in Samuel’s day, we keep looking for another “king” or president to rule over us without realizing that won’t fix the problem until we all as a nation first get right with God.  As frail humans, we seek peace and security in a hostile world.  Rather than running to God, as they should, most people turn to man and give up their God-given security to that end. Most will never see the error of their ways, for; “It takes strenuous efforts to arouse the public.  Only spectacular evils are likely to impress it.  When it is aroused, it is easily turned against some side issues or some harmless scapegoat.  And, like all passions, it is very short-lived and sinks back to slumber quickly.  Despotic governments have always trusted in dilatory tactics, knowing well the somnolence of public opinion.”6

   Niebuhr says on the subject of  liberty and security, “The classes which prefer liberty to security are those which already have a high measure of security through their social and professional skills, and who do not like to have their economic power subjected to political power.  The classes on the other hand which prefer security to liberty are on the whole devoid of special skills and therefore individual securities; and are exposed to perils of a highly integrated technical society, and therefore fear insecurity more than they fear the loss of liberty.”7

   Placing all faith in man for safety and security will cause one to loose all of his/her liberty.  Man is a horrible creature, subject to a fallen, sinful nature and is to never be fully trusted.  Niebuhr says, “the same radical freedom which makes man creative also makes him potentially destructive and dangerous, that the dignity of man and the misery of man therefore have the same root.”8

   Seeking God’s will according to his Divine Word will net us good government and be a shield to the most evil in society who wish to subvert it.  There will always be tests imposed by Him in order to see if man’s free will keeps him with his Lord or not, but operating in Faith in our Heavenly Father guides and protects from the negative forces of evil that perpetually encompass us about.

   As a nation looses its sight of God’s plan and begins to go its own way, the corrective hand of the Lord will proportionately increase its vice and misery as a shepherd’s staff and dog guide the sheep back onto the right path. “Everywhere life is delivered unto death because it is ensnared in self-delusion and practices every evasion rather than meet the true God.”9  Once back on the path, the sheep finds relative safety and security under the shepherd despite the evils surrounding it.   Societies, like sheep, go astray and believe they are safe in the wilderness being led by a company fellow superior sheep which they have elevated to the status of their authorities, instead of following the one true shepherd who is the First Source and Center of all authority and creation.



1. Christian Realism and Political Probelms, ©1953 Reinhold Niebuhr, pp. 127-128.

2. Romans 13:4

3. Hebrews 13:17

4.  op. cit. Niebuhr, p. 115

5. Christianity and the Social Crisis, Walter Rauschenbush, ©1911 MacMillan Co., p. 87

6.  ibid, p. 260

7.  op cit. Niebuhr, p. 90

8.  ibid, p. 101

9.  ibid, pp. 113-114