I’d like your input on a problem I’ve got. I suspect some high-profile theologian has written extensively on the subject, but I’m curious about how the folks in the trenches deal with it.
A little background: A co-worker referred to me yesterday as “a reincarnation of John Galt” because I suggested that the threatened closing of Philadelphia’s public libraries might be a good thing. (It would provide an opportunity for someone to provide a private system that would either meet the true need out there or go broke.) He didn’t mean it as a compliment, but I took it as such. I mentioned that I’m a Christian, and he put “militant Christianity” in a pile with other aspects of a decadent society. So in the course of two e-mails I’ve put my two little toes in the waters of persecution, one for sounding like an atheist and the other for identifying with Jesus.
Yes, John Galt, the hero of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, her epic defense of atheism as a system that makes people good neighbors, would fulfill the first part of my description of a good neighbor: one who keeps his hands to himself and tells the truth. His version, “I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine,” gets to the same place by a different road: to violate my neighbor’s body or property, either directly or through deceit, is precisely to “ask another man to live for mine.” What his version misses, of course, is part two of my description, which is that a good neighbor lives sacrificially so that others may know God. But, while the book treats sacrifice as a dirty word, Galt’s Gulchers voluntarily endured hardships, perhaps considering them investments, and the result was benefit for their neighbors.
While Rand would certainly have issues with the laudatory view of government in Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2, since the word for almost all government and its hangers-on in Atlas Shrugged is “looters,” she would probably have no trouble with the Bible’s descriptions of what government actually does: wasteful public works (the Tower of Babel, the pyramids, Absalom’s tower), enslavement (Gn 47:21), selling expropriated goods to their former owners (Gn 41:34; 47:14), nepotism (Gn 47:12), murderous pillaging (Gn 14:1-11), and absolute control over the property, minds, and hearts of its subjects (Re 13:15–17). I can even imagine her saying that if there were a god and that god came to earth as a man, government would kill him.
Here’s my problem. I find myself agreeing with her and disagreeing with other Christians, almost all of whom take their view of government from Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 rather than from what looks to me like the rest of Scripture.
As I understand it, Christian hermeneutics reads the Old Testament through the lens of the New and focuses it on the cross of Christ. How can one read the story of Naboth (1 Ki 21) that way? Ahab violated the Torah (Dt 17:16–20) and the prophets (Is 5:8), and Elijah called him a murderer (1 Ki 21:19). In what way did Ahab “hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong” (Rom 13:1–7)? Most specifically, how does Romans 13 take the Naboth story and focus it on the Son of God who said, “The kings of the gentiles lord it over their subjects, … but it is not to be that way among you” (Lk 22:24–26)?
Rand can draw a straight line from Naboth’s death to Jesus’ words and his death. I don’t see how Paul can. Further, if she believed in sin, she would class even well-intended government action that goes awry (surprise!)—I’m thinking here of the bailouts that has given my unborn grandchildren’s money to the super-rich in the name of an economic revival that hasn’t happened—as qualifying for damnation not only those directly responsible but those who supported it in any way: they need to repent if they are to avoid the hell they so richly deserve. But I infer from Paul’s open-ended approval of government that the worst he can say in such situations is “stuff happens.”
And the doctrine of predestination would make such actions risk free for Christians who engage in them. No wonder Christians support the unbiblical practice of imprisonment for activities the Bible nowhere calls crimes while not supporting restitution for activities for which the Bible prescribes it! If they’re wrong, they won’t find out until Glory, and “there’ll be no more crying there: we are going to see the King” (but see Am 5:18).
If we defend evil government actions on the basis of Romans 13, how will our neighbors see us as good neighbors, their own sin as odious, and the cross of Christ as the real “final solution”?
So, here’s where I’d like you to weigh in. How do you get from Naboth’s murder (or any similar government atrocity in the Old Testament) to the cross by way of Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2? How do you get those passages to accord with the rest of scripture? The answer to these questions are part of the theological basis on which we can approach the work of being the city on the hill that will cause our neighbors to glorify our Father in heaven.
The comment button is just below. Thanks.