Pacifism: Fitting Government into the Story

pacifismWe next approach the question from within the framework of the story (or narrative) of the Bible.

In Genesis 3, man and creation were cursed because of sin. This curse brought forth pain in childbirth, strife in marriage, weeds in the fields, and finally death. Paul declares that the entire creation was subjected to the curse —

(Rom 8:20-21)  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

When Jesus returns, the curse will be reversed.

(Rev 22:3)  No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city [where the saved live after the Judgment], and his servants will serve him.

And Paul teaches —

(1 Cor 15:24-26)  Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

See the connection? Death came with the curse, because of sin. Christ will defeat death at the end of time, right after all government has been destroyed.

Now, until then, what do Christians do about death? Do we try to defeat it? No, rather our work is to relieve suffering. We can extend life and ease the pain of dying, but we cannot defeat death. That is not our job. Rather, we work to make death less bad.

And what do we do about the weeds that increase the labor of the farmer? Do we destroy all weed species? No, but we are happy to work to reduce the damage done by weeds and reduce the labor required to feed a family. We work to make things better.

And what about the pain of childbirth? Do we end the pain? No, rather, we help mothers so that the risk of death in childbirth is greatly reduced (which I think is the worst part of the pain) and we help mothers by helping relieve the pain. But we’ve not yet defeated the pain of childbirth. We just make the pain of childbirth better. [The word translated “pain” in Gen 3:16 also includes the idea of sorrow.]

Just so, what about strife in marriage? Well, I’m confident there will be strife in marriage until the end of time, but until then, Christians work to heal marriages and prevent strife. Ending strife is beyond what we can do in this world, but we can certainly help make things better until the next world arrives.

Now, in each case, the only real way to utterly defeat weeds, birth sorrow, and marital strife is to stop growing crops, stop having babies, and stop getting married. But in this life, that’s impossible. After Jesus comes, I imagine things will be different (Mark 12:25).

Just so, for now, the government is necessary but has an inevitable tendency to seek the place of God — routinely insisting that loyalty to the state should be higher than loyalty to God. Government is often the source of oppression to the poor and the weak — even democracies do this. The Pope is right about this. But government is necessary despite its inherent imperfections.

When Jesus comes, we won’t need government anymore, and we’ll be glad to be rid of it. Until then, rather than leaving the battlefield, our job is to make government better. You see, if we simply disassociate ourselves from the government, we’ll have lost any influence on it and so not only won’t make it better, we’ll make it worse — which is to aid the enemy, isn’t it?

I mean, death is God’s enemy. Do we therefore withdraw from the battlefield and refuse to do anythign to make death less evil? Or do we engage death to mitigate the evil in this age?

Just so, it seems to me that we should get our hands dirty resisting the wickedness in government and seeking to encourage whatever part of government is good. After all, the only way to utterly defeat the wickedness in government would be for there to be no government, and that won’t happen until Jesus returns.

Until then, we do what we can to reduce the sorrow caused by the Curse, pushing back the frontiers of the Curse, until Jesus can come and finish the task. Utterly.


9 Responses

  1. I’ve been away for a while and don’t know if you have addressed the US government essentially forcing a Church of Christ college in Oklahoma out of business b/c of their beliefs and teaching of pacifism. I believe the faculty and/or administration was threatened with prosecution under the Alien and Sedition Act about the time of WW I and chose to close their doors rather than change their position or go to jail. Richard Hughes provides the details in his history of the Stone Campbell movement – Reviving the Ancient Faith.

  2. Jay,
    Some good thoughts.

    The Hindu religion frowns on alleviating suffering of the poor, because this interferes with the learning of lessons in this incarnation so these souls must then repeat the process in their next reincarnation.

    Islam dismisses catastrophic suffering (such as in the tsunami that hit mainly Islamic areas a few years ago) as “It is the will of Allah.” This is in spite of one of the five pillars of Islam being Benevolence.

    Christians are the only people who, as a matter of course, seek to relieve the pain and suffering in this life – even though we know this life is temporary and but the prelude to better, more glorious things.

    But, is it possible that one of the ways to relieve the pain and suffering incurred in war is to decline war, especially those fought more for national pride and glory (e.g., WWI) than for national survival (e.g., WWII)?

    I have moved from a strict pacifist position to one that recognizes the need for police, even those using lethal force, and an army to protect citizens. Yet, I doubt that all of the wars we have involved ourselves in as a nation over the past two centuries are necessary – and have likely done far more harm than good.

    Does a jingoistic nationalistic mindset contribute to rabid sectarianism when we transfer the “war” to fighting on religious party grounds instead of between nations????

  3. The college Randy refers to above was in Cordell, OK. The President was JN Armstrong (son-in-law of James Harding). The college is one of several that were a precursor to Harding College.

  4. I have a problem with your example. Notice that we are not participating in death, nor promoting it. You seem to be calling for an active participation in government.

    It seems that the logical conclusion, based on your analogy, is that we work to reduce the effects of government on our lives, as we do with death, weeds, labor pains, etc.

    Sounds like Christians should be working to reduce their involvement in government, not increase it.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  5. Tim,

    I don’t want to reduce pregnancy, marriage or agriculture. I want to reduce the bad parts of those things. In fact, there’s a good case to be made that we need more marriages and, in some parts of the world, more agriculture. And I would even argue for more pregnancies among Christians (This always gets me in big trouble). Does this mean I want more government? Well, not here, but there are parts of the world that need more government.

    And I would certainly argue for greater Christian involvement in marriage and in pregnancy. Wouldn’t you?

    And so, I think the church should work to make government better — that is, more like what God intends for government. That may mean more government in some places and less in others. And the church may need to be less involved where it’s involvement is contrary to the scriptures, but more involvement where the church has abdicated its prophetic role.

  6. Yet 1 Corinthians 15 lists dominions, powers, and authorities as enemies to be destroyed, just as death will be destroyed. Are we to participate with the enemies of Christ?

    The most basic thing for me is: this isn’t stated ANYWHERE in the New Testament. Shouldn’t there be an exhortation to participate in the government? To seek political power? If that was God’s plan, why didn’t He put it into practice then?

    There are plenty of exhortations about not getting entangled in the affairs of this world. Verses that emphasize our role as strangers and aliens. Reminders that the Gentiles “lord it over” others, but Christians aren’t to behave that way.

    I see no positive statements about participating in the affairs of this world and numerous negative ones.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  7. I agree with Jay that we are to reduce bad parts of the government. For example; our new president is unabashedly promoting the gay/lesbian lifestyle to the point that it will be reflected in not only our society but in what is taught to our children at school. True, the real teaching comes from us at home, but the influence at school can not be dismissed.

    Also, the bill passed just yesterday (?) that had hate crimes legislation pinned on has the potential to threaten our ability to be able to preach the word denouncing things like homosexuality. The legislation states that should our preaching cause someone or anyone to strike out against a homosexual, then our acts would be considered criminal and we could be jailed.

    I think we must do our best to keep our senators and representatives voting in the direction of morality lest our country fall into the hands of those 1% who are now doing the most damage to our country.

    The paragraph that I just quoted above could be considered criminal if someone read it and went out and commited a crime to reduce their effect. This according to the bill just passed.

  8. Clearly, Jay, you missed the memo that God only approves of democracy and our bill of rights, and all others countries in the world must follow suit. =o)

    But still, we could change all the laws in the world and still fail to change even one heart in the process. Then what have we really accomplished? But if we just focus on changing hearts regardless of the laws, then eventually there’s little need to change laws.

    But what do i know about politics? i shut my mind off to politics several years ago now, so i don’t mean to pretend to have an informed opinion.


  9. […] answered this question from one direction in Pacifism: Fitting Government Into the Story. There I pointed out that the New Heavens and New Earth will also mean the end of marriage, the end […]

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