Summary: God gives government to preserve the life we cherish.
How are we to interact with government? One extreme seems to vilify everything from Washington, hoping to have little or nothing to do with the state, and fantasizing about a world in which they have even less to do with us. The other side seems to deify the state, assuming that it alone can solve the plethora of problems which the church seems too self-absorbed even to notice. Between the extremes, most Americans, I think, prefer an uneasy truce – some power transferred to Columbus and Washington, in exchange for some comfort and care, and a little bit of autonomy and freedom.
For those who desire to be informed by the Christian faith, or who are interested in the history of the topic, the Bible offers some principles for the role of government and our relationship to it. The state is important, and it is limited. As God’s minister, the magistrate has responsibilities only he can fulfill, and as the people of God, we have duties which belong exclusively to the church and families. Those who honor Jesus as Sovereign Lord need not deprecate government to prevent its being deified. The State is not our savior, but neither may it be our scapegoat. We must bless those whom God has placed in authority over us, while (at the same time), worshipping Jesus Christ, the Lord of the state.
Our study this morning will certainly not cover all of that! We will, however, by God’s help, ground ourselves in a few key starting points from Genesis, as we consider the beginning of… human government.
[Read Genesis 8.20-9.7. Pray.]
So there is no confusion, let me note, first, that Genesis 9.6 establishes the right and responsibility for the creation of governments on the earth, and gives to them the power to execute capital punishment for certain crimes, namely, murder. Any philosophy of the state which refuses to acknowledge this fundamental truth is certainly less than Biblical, and will, in the long-run, be detrimental its citizenry. I don’t want to be thought of as some kind of liberal advocate for coddling criminals!
With that said, however, we must be equally concerned to emphasize that this passage is not about the death penalty. Yes, it ends with that terrible and necessary punishment for the most heinous of crimes. But too often those who are not interested in a Biblical answer are allowed to frame the question, and the Christian response sounds like a shrill cry to kill more people. God is not saying that; in fact, just the opposite; these verses are preeminently pro-life.
After disembarking from the ark, Noah surveys a world in which animals, plants, and people have been wiped away, like the dust of a chalk mark obliterated by an eraser. Noah and his family would have wondered, therefore, “Is life sacred? Is this to be the pattern for dealing with us from now on? Would mankind, or animal-kind, or any-kind survive? Does God care about us and this world?” God’s answer is three-fold:
• First, he promises the permanence of life: “never again will I strike down every living creature” (though the intention of man’s heart remains evil). The flood was a sign of the seriousness of sin and such devastation will not be repeated until the final judgment when the world is destroyed by fire;
• Second, God plans for the propagation of life: “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth”; and
• Third, God provides for the protection of life: if one among you, failing to appreciate the dignity and worth of a human, kills another, “by man shall his blood be shed.”
Dr. Allen P. Ross, professor of Old Testament and Hebrew, and translator and editor of the New King James Version of the Bible, is surely correct when he says: “The unity of [this] passage is based on the value of life: after the flood, people might think that life was worthless to God, but God’s commandments to and covenant with Noah showed that the contrary was true” (Creation and Blessing, 203-204).
If we are to be faithful to this text and to God’s covenant promises, we must see Genesis 9 as God’s speech on the sacredness of life. To get there, please note…
1. We Must Cherish the Image of God in Our Neighbor
C. S. Lewis preached in a sermon, “It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken…. There are no ordinary people…. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses” (The Weight of Glory, June 8, 1942).