What is the Purpose of Government?

In an election year lots of people question government – big government, small government, government that doesn’t do enough, and government that overly controls everything.  New Testament scholar N.T. Wright offers a few words about government, especially in a fallen world where government officials can be as much a part of the problem as anything else.

God wants the world to be ordered, to keep evil in check, otherwise wickedness simply flourishes and naked power and aggression wins. But the rulers of the world are themselves answerable to God, not least at the point where they use their power to become just like the bullies they are supposed to be restraining…All this is based, of course, on a creational monotheism which, faced with evil in the world, declares that God will one day put it all to rights, and that we can see advance signs of that in systems of justice and government even when they are imperfect. This leaves no room for a dualism in which pagan rulers are thoroughly bad and can be ignored, or overthrown without thought for what will come next. Nor does it allow that kind of pantheism in which rulers are simply part of the fabric of the divinely ordered world, requiring unquestioning submission to their every whim.

The Jewish political belief we find in books like this was based on a strong theology of creation, fall and providence: the one God had in fact created all the world, including all rulers, and though they were often exceedingly wicked God was overruling their whims for his own strange and often hidden purposes, and would judge them in their turn…. The rulers are wicked and will be judged, especially when they persecute God’s people.  But God wants the world to be ruled, rather than to descend into anarchy and chaos, and his people must learn to live under pagan rule even though it means constant vigilance against compromise with paganism itself.                                                                       (N.T. Wright,  Paul)

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