A Biblical Vision of Government

Isaiah speaks of government in very clear terms. A Son is born who is the Prince of Peace, and the government rests upon his shoulders. (Isaiah 9:6-7) His reign extends through peace. This peace occurs because his reign is one of justice: “the result of justice shall be peace.” (Isaiah 32:17)

This justice is consistently described as one where the least of people, the struggling foreigners, and the weakest find refuge and nurture: “Behold, a king will reign righteously and princes will rule justly. Each will be like a refuge from the wind and a shelter from the storm, like streams of water in a dry country, like the shade of a huge rock in a parched land…” (Isaiah 32:1-2)

This is the consistent view of God’s kingdom in Isaiah, spreading through the world, renewing the parched land. And the church is the avenue of this spread. The church is the vessel through which the mercy and kindness of this new rule shall transform the nations: “Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will shout for joy. For waters will break forth in the wilderness and streams in the Arabah…” (Isaiah 35:5-6)

This vision of government describes a government of mercy. And through this mercy wounds are healed and through that peace prevails. This is said to be the makeup, or the modus operandi of the government of Christ.

But there is a contra-vision of government in Isaiah. This is of the oppressive nations, the empires of the world. These are like rivers, or raging torrents, that disquiet the land and sweep all before it, like a flood causes erosion of peaceful dwellings. These rivers, armies of the nations, are contrasted by Isaiah by the still pools of Siloam, in Jerusalem, city of peace, figuratively the peace of Christ. These rivers rage with selfishness, with covetousness, with commercial ambition. They are numb to the suffering they cause to others, or to those who suffer on the outside. In Daniel these nations are represented by the image of the beast. Their nature stems from the fall, when man first reached out to take for himself what he wanted.

So what is our vision of government? Is it of the one that cares for the feeble, or the one that uses its army to “keep the peace”? An alternative vision of government may come from Romans 13, where Paul says it bears the sword as a minister of God, to punish evil doers. This is often the vision of government held by conservative Christianity, especially where we bear the position of rule in the world. We punish those at sea as refugees, rather than bring them under shelter. And our justification for this is Romans 13. And while we do this we bask in our commercialism, new purchases and sports.

Isaiah told us what repentance towards the Prince of Peace’s kingdom looked like. God called us to act with mercy towards strangers and refugees, even though they were natural enemies.  He said, “Cast a thick shadow over them to shield them from the noonday sun. Hide the fugitives, do not betray the refugees.” (Isaiah 16:3) This means we are to act with mercy towards those in need and protect them from the danger they have fallen into, from the oppression of Babylon, or from the circumstances that have befallen them in the world today.

It was Romans 13 we used to justify slavery. It was Romans 13 we used to justify Apartheid in South Africa. We use it to justify separation between us and those in the world who suffer. We use it to justify our economic systems. However, in referring to the government of Rome, Paul was saying we should submit to it, as God uses it to maintain some semblance of order in the world, even though it is corrupt and unjust. But Paul didn’t mean by that that God wanted the privileged classes to enjoy the benefit of that type of government and not seek to transform it for the wellbeing of peoples in the world. The scripture shows us that the purpose of God through Christ is to strike such governments on the feet, to undermine them, to transform them, and to bring them tumbling down, not by rebellion, but by the cross, by mercy towards the sheep that are without a shepherd. (Daniel 2:34)

We are God’s Trojan horse, not to accept the self-serving nature of human governments, but to infiltrate them with kindness and transform them: to transplant within them the government of Christ. To reveal to the governments of this world, the principalities and powers, the wisdom of God in the cross of Christ, and thus bring about the Isaianic vision from sea to sea, and to the ends of the earth. (Ephesians 3:10) Or as Paul said again in Corinthians, the wisdom of God, the so called foolishness of God through the cross, God’s self-giving for and through our lives, is to bring to nought the powers that are: transform their inner principle. 1 and 2 Corinthians are about God bringing these self-centred powers in our lives to nought through Christ. God doesn’t fight fire with fire. He fights it with water, which makes sense.

This is why when you go to Canberra, to the seat of the Australian government, the parliament house is not built on a hill. They claimed the government should not be above the people, but serve the people. They claimed it was to be a refuge for the people of the world. They claimed this because of the Isaianic vision. Let this be true in our hearts and let us speak this as Christians to our governments through our own examples.