This essay continues the Christian Theology and Public Policy Course essays by John Cobin, author of the books Bible and Government and Christian Theology of Public Policy.
The state has been a vile nuisance for civilized men, and the Bible gives us no reason to believe its evil nature can be changed. The psalmist recognized that states legislate evil policies when he wrote: “Shall the throne of iniquity, which devises evil by law, have fellowship with You?” (Psalm 94:20). Historically, the state usually reigns by iniquity, stimulating and fomenting evil schemes. And, in the end, God will destroy the evil and “twisted” state, the beast from the sea (akin to the one mentioned in Revelation 13:1). As He says in Isaiah 27:1: “In that day the Lord with His severe sword, great and strong, will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan that twisted serpent; and He will slay the reptile that is in the sea.” Indeed, the Bible teaches that hell (Tophet) was “prepared” for the king (Isaiah 30:33), and designates the lake of fire as the ultimate end of earthly kings who defy God (Revelation 19:20).
With conviction, the Bible indicates that the state is always created according to God’s permissive will: “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes” (Proverbs 21:1). By God’s wisdom, “kings reign, and rulers decree justice” (Proverbs 8:15). Indeed, “All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth” (Daniel 4:34-37). Thus, even the most vicious and evil rulers are subject to God’s decree, even though their lust for greed and power fosters conscription, taxation, power brokering, and oppression—just as Samuel prophesied (1 Samuel 8:11-18).1
Biblical accounts of public policy clearly indicate that state actions in the Bible were mostly evil, concurring with other historical manifestations over the last few thousand years. As I show in Bible and Government: Public Policy from a Christian Perspective, over 90% of the recorded acts of states (outside of the theocracy) were clearly evil. That is to say, public policies recorded in Scripture are usually perverse or opposed to God’s law and righteousness, or are directed against God’s people. “Summarizing the biblical data, we can conclude that non-theocratic state policy actions were evil 90.2% of the time. Theocratic ones were evil 60.3% of the time. Overall, state acts were evil 78.4% of the time.”2
The Bible does not support the popular notion that the state is generally a benign—if not benevolent— upholder of social order. The state has not generally been the guardian of God’s law or even an arbitrary selection of it. Moreover, the Bible hardly supports the notion that men have learned to govern themselves better over time—such that the evils of the past are less likely to be repeated in the future. On the contrary, the Bible teaches that the heart of man is the same in all ages, resulting in social decay.
Does history confirm the Bible’s doctrine regarding the nature of the state? Indeed, it does so emphatically! Throughout history, rulers have typically been malevolent and often cruel. Some have been hedonistic, while others have been sadistic. Some have been ideologues or masterful demagogues; others have been rapacious conquerors. These are the standout traits of power and authority throughout history.
Renowned economist Ludwig von Mises notes that interventionist public policy by states “has caused wars and civil wars, ruthless oppression of the masses by clusters of self-appointed dictators, economic depressions, mass unemployment, capital consumption, [and] famines.”3 For Mises, “collectivism is a doctrine of war, intolerance, and persecution” where the people “become mere soulless pawns in the hands of a monster.”4
The Bible substantiates this observation. “If you see the oppression of the poor, and the violent perversion of justice and righteousness in a province, do not marvel at the matter; for high official watches over high official, and higher officials are over them” (Ecclesiastes 5:8). Jesus Christ confirmed the vicious behavior of rulers too: “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them” (Mark 10:42; cf. Matthew 20:25). The record of state abuses indicates that social learning has hardly improved the state—from the Roman Empire to the Dark Ages down to the present. The state remains the foremost enemy of humanity and, along with false religion, the foremost ally of Satan. Thus, the permanent satanic nature of the state presented in the Bible implies the futility of trying to “transform” it into a godly institution (under the dominion mandate of Genesis 1:26-27). Christians should not expect that a leopard will change its spots or that a poisoned spring will produce fresh water.
1 1 Samuel 8:4-22: Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” So Samuel prayed to the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt, even to this day—with which they have forsaken Me and served other gods—so they are doing to you also. Now therefore, heed their voice. However, you shall solemnly forewarn them, and show them the behavior of the king who will reign over them.” So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who asked him for a king. And he said, “This will be the behavior of the king who will reign over you: He will take your sons and appoint them for his own chariots and to be his horsemen, and some will run before his chariots. He will appoint captains over his thousands and captains over his fifties, will set some to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and some to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, and bakers. And he will take the best of your fields, your vineyards, and your olive groves, and give them to his servants. He will take a tenth of your grain and your vintage, and give it to his officers and servants. And he will take your male servants, your female servants, your finest young men, and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take a tenth of your sheep. And you will be his servants. And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the Lord will not hear you in that day.” Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, “No, but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he repeated them in the hearing of the Lord. So the Lord said to Samuel, “Heed their voice, and make them a king.” And Samuel said to the men of Israel, “Every man go to his city.”
2 John Cobin (2003), Bible and Government: Public Policy from a Christian Perspective, Greenville, SC: Alertness Books, p. 98.
3 See Ludwig von Mises (1996 [1966/1949]), Human Action: A Treatise On Economics, fourth revised edition, Irvington-on-Hudson, New York: The Foundation for Economic Education, p. 855.
4 Ludwig von Mises, (1985/1957), Theory and History: An Interpretation of Social and Economic Evolution, Auburn, Alabama: The Ludwig von Mises Institute, p. 61.
Originally published in The Times Examiner on October 12, 2005.