The Law of God and Public Policy: A Good Society (1)
“You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show partiality, nor take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous. You shall follow what is altogether just, that you may live and inherit the land which the LORD your God is giving you.” Deuteronomy 16.19, 20
For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. Romans 13.3, 4
The goal of public policy
We have said that the goal of public policy must be to ensure a just society, one in which the very character of God defines the parameters and practices of moral and social conduct. God’s character is holy, and that holiness comes to expression in goodness and love. The Law of God, as an expression of God’s character, is holy and righteous and good, and thus shows the way to love for God and neighbors (Rom. 7.12; 1 Jn. 5.1-13; Matt. 22.34-40).
Of course, many in our society will take a different view. Many do not believe that God should have any say in morals, culture, or the social order. They prefer to make up the rules of public policy as we go along, being free, as they suppose, to adjust policies and practices in line with changes in the times.
But no Christian can agree that this is a proper way to order society. We look to God and His Word to define a just and good social order, and we commit ourselves to seeking such a society by every available means.
Justice, as an expression of God’s goodness, is a jewel with five facets, and the Law of God outlines the specific nature and practice of each of these forms of justice. But justice must begin in those who hold to God’s Law, live it every day, and can understand its implications for helping to create a good society.
A just society is the “good” for which government has been instituted by God. No government ever retained power for very long by announcing that it was opposed to justice and hostile to goodness. Attaining justice and goodness is the stated purpose of every politician, no matter his party or platform or whether his promises are disingenuous or sincere. In a free society such as ours, one cannot expect to be elected to office unless he is able to persuade the electorate that he and his policies are on the side of justice and goodness.
But unless we define each of these terms, and hold to and practice them assiduously, we will always be in danger of being persuaded that “justice” and “goodness” actually mean, in the end, something like “whatever is best for me and my party or tribe.”
We have defined justice; but what is goodness? When justice is maintained, goodness should flourish. On the other hand, if we don’t have a clear conception of the good society, justice may be easily perverted, bent to fit the agenda of those whose aims are less than truly “good.”
“Justice” and “goodness” are like the near and far sights of a rifle. We must line them up together, and keep them in focus, if we are to hit the target of policies that are in line with God’s purposes.
It is important, therefore, that Christians possess an idea of the good society, a society in which only what is altogether just is being followed in every area of public policy and private life. And, from the Christian perspective, such an idea can only derive from considering the teaching of God’s Word.
In 1 Timothy 2.1-4 Paul wrote, “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
Here is an outline of a “good and acceptable” social order, one that pleases God and benefits all people. When justice and only justice defines the policies and daily practices of a people, and a good society, such as Paul envisioned, is our common aim, we will surely come closer to realizing God’s purpose for government and public policy. And while realizing that purpose will not achieve a utopia or even a theocracy, it will make for a society where freedom can flourish, truth can be known, and goodness will thrive.
Toward a good society
A just and good society, from Paul’s perspective, will be guided and informed by the holy and righteous (just) and good Law of God. So whatever Paul envisions as a summary of the “good” society, we may take it as a goal of our Christian lives to strive to attain such an ideal by every means available to us, including, as Paul mentions here and we have previously explained, prayer, and applications of the Law of God.
We are not utopians, and we do not believe that realizing a more just society—a society more in line with the good God has in mind for government—will lead to salvation. But we do believe that justice can be achieved, and goodness can increase as government at all levels is influenced to make policies in line with the Law of God and all His Word.
So before we proceed further into the teaching of God’s Law with respect to public policy, we need to examine the various terms Paul uses to outline the parameters of the good society: peaceful and quiet, godly and dignified in every way, characterized by truth, and friendly to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Understanding the good society and believing that greater measures of goodness can be realized for all members of our society will reinforce our determination to work for policies that are just, and that bring honor to God and benefit to all people.
1. Why would some people oppose appealing to God’s Word to help in shaping public policy? How should we respond to such people?
2. Every public policymaker will insist that he or she is on the side of justice and goodness. How are those terms used and defined in our day?
3. If Christians do not work for justice and goodness in public policymaking, what kinds of policies can we expect?
Next steps—Preparation: What is your view of the good society? Could you explain your view to a fellow believer? Is your view more in line with the teaching of Scripture or the temper of the times?
T. M. Moore
What is the place of the Law of God in the Christian’s life? Our book, The Ground for Christian Ethics, answers this question and shows us again why Jesus taught us that keeping the Law is an indispensable part of our calling in God’s Kingdom. Order your free copy of The Ground for Christian Ethics by clicking here. To gain a better understanding of how the Law of God applies in daily life, order a free copy of our book, A Kingdom Catechism, by clicking here.
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Except as indicated, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.