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;