Part 2 is here.
Three passages encapsulate the biblical view of compassion: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). And the parable of the Good Samaritan: “He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said” (Luke 10:34–35)
In each case, one (a) motivated by love gave (b) his own resources (c) for the (eternal) benefit of another. All three aspects are important. God looks at the heart, and anyone who gives out of selfish motives is sinning (1 Cor 13:3). The Good Samaritan could have caught the priest or the Levite and forced them to take care of the mugging victim, but Jesus makes a point of emphasizing that the man used “his own” donkey (and so presumably his own oil, wine, and silver coins, not to mention his time and effort). Finally, God sent his Son, not so we could build a Christian America or live our present lives under our own vines and fig trees, but so that we would know eternal life even if it meant an early death.Given that definition of compassion, can government be compassionate? Can a government love? Individuals in government can love, but the government itself is an abstraction and so is incapable of love.
Can loving individuals, acting as government officials, give of their own resources? “Ah,” you say, “that’s what taxes are all about: giving loving government officials the resources to give others.”But apart from an official designation as a government official, what makes collecting taxes for redistribution different from the Good Samaritan putting a gun in the belly of the Levite and telling him to take care of the mugging victim?
“But Romans 13:6 says specifically that that’s what taxation is all about.”I have two problems with that. The first is an analogy. Romans 13:4 says that the ruler “is God's servant to do you good. … He does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” Reading the Naboth incident through the lens of a strict reading of Romans 13 gives every reason to believe that Naboth was a wrongdoer. He was, after all, convicted on the testimony of “two or three witnesses” (Deut 17:6) who were presumably the first to throw the stones that killed him (1 Kgs 21:13). Yet the larger context of the story tells us that Naboth was murdered. If Romans 13 needs to be understood loosely in regard to justice, it probably also needs to be understood loosely in regard to charity.
The second objection has to do with method. Jesus calls us to be servants: “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves” (Luke 22:25–26). Even kings are not to consider themselves above commoners (Deut 17:20). How can we pass school levies by outvoting our neighbors without thereby lording it over them? How can we take money from our neighbors’ grandchildren—or our employers, for that matter—to fund our retirement and health care without thereby considering ourselves as better than they are? In both cases, are we not doing to them what we wouldn’t want them to do to us, that is, treating them unjustly?The argument that we wouldn’t be able to care for the poor or the weak without government compassion is a classic end-justifies-the-means argument: how do we know which ends justify which means? If means are ends in themselves, then Christian compassion has to be based on justice; if we need to violate people’s bodies or property to do it, it’s not compassion, it’s injustice. When we expect the government to be our agent of compassion, we are basing our care for the poor and weak on injustice.
If we are acting unjustly, is it any wonder the world doesn’t look at Christians as good neighbors?