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Goodness by Compulsion

  • November 29, -0001
Of course, we cannot really know what's on the heart of politicians, except insofar as it pleases them to reveal their motives in any matter. I can't imagine any politician offering as his explanation for some public policy position that he just likes the feeling of power or that he frankly believes the government is a better judge of what's right and good for people than, well, people themselves.

Most political explanations - like those Harry Reid is trumpeting over the Senate's proposed health care reform bill - are couched in terms of wanting to do good, to do the right thing, the best thing for all Americans. Shall we give them that? Even if we do, we have solid Biblical grounds for questioning whether the right way to get people to do a good thing is to coerce them by law. After all, not even God does that.

When Paul sent the slave Onesimus back to his master, Philemon, it was with the idea that the latter would free him and take him in no longer as a slave but as a brother. Onesimus had run away to Paul in Rome, become a Christian, and was now being sent back to Philemon as a matter of course. Paul wrote that, given all that Philemon owed him, he had every right to demand of him the freedom of this new believer. But he wasn't going to do that. Rather, he wrote, he would appeal to Philemon in the name of love to set Onesimus free so that the former slave could flourish in Philemon's service as a co-laborer in the Gospel.

Paul appealed to Philemon's heart; he didn't try to lord over it. He pled love, not "rights." And here we get a glimpse at the apostle's view of how to induce people to do the good thing, the right thing in any situation. You don't force them, either by threats or laws or increased taxes. You appeal to them on the basis of love, for the sake of greater good to come, and as members together of the family of faith.

Oops...there's the problem. Not even President Obama seems willing to invoke the teachings of his faith in the pursuit of public policy. I suppose it's just easier, given the current majorities in Congress, to force people to do what he wants, and to feel really righteous and good about it all. He needs to know that what he is doing does not comport with the teaching of his professed faith.

It's never right to do the wrong thing. It's never right to do the right thing in the wrong way. It's only ever right to do the right thing in the right way, and the current attempt to reform health care in America, which may well be a good thing, is being done in the wrong way, a way that bypasses love and the common weal for the sake of self-righteous political agendas.

T. M. Moore

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