The Law of God and Public Policy: A Good Society (2)
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… 1 Timothy 2.1, 2
Paul on the “good society”
We are looking at the apostle Paul’s counsel to the minister of the churches in Ephesus regarding what to work for in the way of a “good society.” Once we’ve gained an understanding of his instruction on this matter, we will return to the Law of God, which Paul explained is holy and righteous and good, to see how it can guide us in working for policies agreeable to the formation and maintenance of a good society.
We note two things right off the bat: Public policymakers are in the crosshairs of Paul’s prayer, and prayer is the place to begin in trying to shape the policies they make. Paul especially called on men to take up this challenge of engaging public policy with the language of prayer (v. 8). If we can’t get the men in our churches to seek the Lord concerning such matters, we’ll be stuck with whatever policies “kings and all who are in authority” foist upon us.
But if we can get men to enter the public policymaking arena at the point of prayer, we might find that a just and good society will be more likely to emerge. In this part of our study, we want to examine more closely what Paul meant by a good society. And his first criteria for a good society is that it be one in which people lead quiet and peaceable lives.
Our disquieting times
The words “quiet and peaceable” are at the heart of what many people insist is missing in our own society today. So narcissistic, self-centered, and disrespectful of persons and property have we become, and so loud, brazen, and even violent in making our desires known, that few today, I suspect, would characterize our society as “quiet and peaceable.” We are wary of just about everyone and fearful of some. We arm our homes with security systems and extra locks, and, for good measure, some of us even keep a little “peacemaker” ready to hand—just in case.
Evidence abounds indicating that we are neither a peaceable nor a quiet people. Listen to the uncivil tone of public debate and the vulgarity that characterizes so much of everyday conversation. Hear the angry lyrics of certain kinds of pop music and see the glorified violence in so much of contemporary film. Note the increase of road rage, domestic violence, flash mob crime, protest looting and burning, and identity theft. Observe the increasing use of security cameras in public places. Consider the dog-eat-dog atmosphere that characterizes the world of business and trade.
Such are hardly the characteristics of a people who are living quiet and peaceable lives.
The gods of relativism
When people turn away from God, they look to themselves as gods and chart a course in life that seems to work for them. If that means disrespecting others and their property—setting aside the fifth, eighth, and tenth commandments and most forms of obligatory justice—so be it.
But as is by now apparent, we cannot achieve a good society when everyone is free to do what seems right in their own mind. The infamous “mystery clause” of the 1992 Supreme Court decision, Planned Parenthood v Casey, solemnly declared the right of every American to define their own worldview. And Americans have leaped at the opportunity with a vengeance. Now “tolerance” is the only virtue and “intolerance” is not to be, well, tolerated. We should all be able to say what we want, do what we want, wear what we want, sleep with whom we want, and get away with as much as we can.
But the problem is that people get shouted down. Property is jeopardized or destroyed. Law and order evaporate. And people die—Aurora, Colorado; Newtown, Connecticut; Boston, Massachusetts; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Nashville, Tennessee; Lewistown, Maine, to remember a few.
Not the fault of government, but…
Our present condition of disquiet is not the fault of our federal government. Not entirely, anyway. But whatever policies of America’s government—at all levels—have encouraged or exacerbated this situation must be reviewed and replaced.
For example, teaching relativist ethics and identity politics in public schools, using courts and executive decrees to make laws reflecting the temper of the times, and failing to require restoration or minimizing retribution for crimes against persons and property: such practices are neither just nor good. Rather than secure peace and quiet for all citizens, such policies make it increasingly likely that the wants of some will jeopardize the liberties, properties, and wellbeing of others.
Governments can’t do everything to ensure a peaceable and quiet society. Recovering protocols of decency and consideration, and exposing and condemning incivility, disrespect, and violence against others are the work of families, churches, friends, and peer groups, as well as private associations of various kinds. Government policies have a role in this, but public policies promoting a peaceable and quiet life will not be a priority of government until they are seen to be highly valued among the population at various levels.
A good society is one in which people feel safe and secure from threats and are part of a caring community. Public policy is more than law. It commands, enforces, and punishes behavior, but it also speaks to the way we think and live in society. We need a widespread, lively public debate about the tenets of a peaceable and quiet life. And we need new public policies to direct us toward such a society and to discourage attitudes and actions that counsel chaos and confusion.
And such can happen, Paul insisted, if men will pray.
1. Do the men in your church pray for a peaceable and quiet life for our society? How might you help them in doing so?
2. Do you think having a more peaceable and quiet society would affect people’s overall attitudes toward life? Explain.
3. In what ways might a more peaceable and quiet society be conducive to the spread of the Gospel?
Next steps—Transformation: Look at your own life and your relationships. Is there room for a more peaceable and quiet life in your spheres? How can you improve your own practice and promotion of a peaceable and quiet life?
T. M. Moore
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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.