“‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.
“‘Do not lie.
“‘Do not deceive one another.
“‘Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight.
“‘Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the Lord.
“‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.’” Leviticus 19:9-18
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. Romans 13:1-8
We bit off more than we could chew for just one post. Still, some issues got clarified for me at least. I had come to see years ago that God is on the side of the most vulnerable people, those least able to help themselves. And I had come to see that the Torah legislation moved people in the direction of a perpetual redistribution of wealth so that there might be no poor, no disenfranchised, not a few rulers with all power and wealth in Israel. I had also seen, somewhat independently from the first insight, that Paul gives God’s firm blessing to government itself many centuries after Torah was given to Israel as a legal treaty. I have always drawn a line between those things: 1) God legislates for the poor and powerless and 2) government is good, even in the hands of imperial despots like the Romans. Add to that all I learned years ago from David Koyzis and Jim Skillen about the state being a good creature of God, created to promote and safeguard public justice.
Then, far more recently, I became aware of the creation-order, what others might call the “naturalness,” of democracy among animals even as small as gnats! Animals vote! All the time; constantly. Herds of large animals may have alpha males but they decide together where to move and when. Which means, democracy, far from being a strange and un-natural human experiment which is bound to fail eventually, is in our genes; it is the way God made all creatures for their own sake and only humans of all the large creatures on the earth, lost themselves in hierarchies of overwhelming rulers. Only humans defer to a few rich and powerful who do not have their best interests at heart.
So I put all this together. Government might be used for the sake justice to redistribute wealth in order that there be no super-rich, and no people in grinding poverty. Add to that the normal-ness of people throwing off despots, that God wants people to rule themselves and to structure society not for the sake of a few but for the sake of everyone, together. I have concluded government should be utilized by the people in any society to maximize just development of the nation’s resources while minimizing environmental and human degradation in the process. I have always wondered why other Christians did not see Torah, Paul and the state and economy the way I do. Scot’s most interesting argument (in his comment) was:
By redistribute, it does not mean a charity that collects donations. Redistribute refers to a government that uses force, or threat of force, to take wealth from people.
My question remains, Where in the Bible does God use government, or a third party, to forcibly take from one group to give to another?
God could have set up this government-type redistribution in ancient Israel, but He did not.
In my response to this argument, I said what Scot was asking for here would have required God to institute something in Israel that had not only never existed but the simplest, most basic infrastructural supports for it did not yet exist. Israel was still largely a bartering economy which would not develop so as to collect taxes and redistribute income except for close to a thousand years.
In A Year in the Bible I usually tell the story of an early discussion with a woman in one of my classes about the book of Ruth. The woman did not approve at all of how Ruth solved her problem. After-all, “she literally threw herself at the feet of a man and let him take care of her.” I asked the dear woman what she thought Ruth should have done instead. She said, with some exasperation in her voice, “Well! She could have gotten a job!” I did not have the heart to tell the woman that the only profession in which Ruth might have engaged in Israel at that time is the exact job Ruth and Naomi were trying to avoid. Apart from prostitution, there were no jobs for women in Israel except wife and mother.
As Dave Koyzis wrote, we must be careful not to force what we find in the Scriptures into societal realities which exist now but did not then. No case can be built on the absence of governmental structures which did not come into existence for a thousand years any more than Ruth should be criticized for not becoming a nurse, a court stenographer or a school teacher.
The breakthrough in this argument came with Jim’s insight that we substitute the word “law” for the word “government” in the discussion. Professor Koyzis agreed with Jim and so do I. What happens then is we begin to see that which God intended at a time when law existed but the means of firmly enforcing or even administrating law (namely, government) did not. When we see that the intent of the law is the careful and judicious but mandatory continual redistribution of wealth for the sake of the whole society then the absence of the means to forcibly accomplish what the law requires does not in any way blunt the intent of Torah, or, more importantly, the will of God, not merely for Israel when its judges had limited means of enforcement but for societies like ours wherein the means of administration and enforcement both exist because of the will of the people over centuries.
We should pick up this discussion again soon, perhaps with a more limited topic. In the meantime, I have a clearer grasp than I had before on why I believe what I believe and I hope others do as well. Thank you for all who participated.
Lord, your will is sometimes hard to discern, but not so hard in these matters. As Abraham told the rich man in hell, his six brothers had Moses and the prophets; if they could not hear their mandatory, lawful duty through them, nothing would get through their thick skulls. Help us Lord, when our skulls get thick, when we drown out your message by hearing only what we want to hear. Help me, Father, see plainly what is right in front of my face; what I do not want to face. Then be my savior again, Lord Jesus, as I fly to you for help. I cannot do this on my own. We cannot be your people on our own. Give us love for the whole council of your message to us and passion for the special area in which you call each of us to dive in deep, toward the coming of your kingdom. In the name of our very mandatory Savior and Lord, Amen!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The original blog follows: comments are available to read by clicking Comments, way up above.
~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~
Following are four comments on my various posts by Scot Wolf, a political activist and devoted follower of King Jesus. Scot and I agree that as Christians we all need to take our responsibilities as citizens seriously and act responsibly before God as seekers of justice, also in our political lives. Although he and I have not discussed it, I feel safe in assuming that Scot agrees with me that political service is as much a holy calling as any other vocation.
Scot and I disagree on where and how justice may best be served. He is a small-government conservative and I am a progressive populist. While such terms are little more than convenient labels, they at least help you, dear reader, understand somewhat where our conversation begins. Perhaps he and I will each disavow those labels by the end; perhaps we will find a better term together which suits us both.
For my part, I do not engage in this discussion with Scot (or with you all) in order to “win” or to score points for a “side.” I am a Christian who is deeply saddened by the confusion which exists among Christians in our time over many, many things, including politics, confusion which usually prevents Christians from speaking on any significant issue with anything like one voice at a time when the fallen world is in dire need of that one voice. To that end, I am engaging in all of the discussion which goes on through this blog (and others such as those in my Blogroll) to the end that in our divided world, Christians might find each other, might hear the Spirit of God and once again find their voice, their 21st century expression of God’s Spirit-driven words for fruitful life.
We are a long way from such things right now so I am picking myself up and starting the journey because despair is not a Christian option. So, let’s read Scot and my responses to him; then we can discuss some more. His comments are in bold; my interjected responses, here and there, are in regular type
As I read your post, I detect a yearning for big government to somehow even out the paying field.
First, I do not find any endorsement of forcibly re-distributing wealth using the power of government in the Bible. Please show me if there are examples. God calls us to VOLUNTARILY help the poor (those that are helpless, not those that are lazy).
In class you often used food stamps as an example as modern day gleaning. With gleaning, the farmer voluntarily left grain in the field so the poor could harvest it. There was not a government agent TAKING a percentage of the farmers harvest and distributing it to the poor.
Take another look at Torah, Scot, and at the narratives which illustrate it. Help for the poor, the widow and the orphan in Torah was not voluntary; it was mandatory, incumbent on every faithful person. When gleaners came to a field, it should not have been necessary to ask, as Ruth wisely does, whether she may glean. It was because, as we learn in Judges, there was at that time, no king in Israel and because, therefore, everyone was doing whatever they wanted that it was dangerous to glean in some fields.
Notice, when Jesus and the disciples gleaned in Galilee (Matthew 12, Mark 2, Luke 6) they did not, as the story is told in the gospels, ask for permission. Although a local landowner had grown the grain, what grew along the edge of the field was not his (Leviticus 19:9-10). It belonged to the poor, both to the deserving poor and to the undeserving poor as well as those who were traveling.
In the whole story of God it is clearly the intention of God to take from the rich of Israel and redistribute the wealth to the poor, not so the poor can remain poor, but so they can again be truly fruitful. That is why Jesus called for Jubilee, not for more alms for the poor which kept them that way. That is why the New Testament church expressed the heart-swelling grace of God with a fist-loosening, carefree redistribution of the wealth of their community.
In fact when the people of Israel decided they wanted a king, the modern day equivalent of a bigger, powerful centralized government, God warns them against a king, telling them a king will make them slaves and take 10% of the goods the people produce. (1 Samuel 8: 9-18 )
You are quite correct that it was a step backward for Israel to ask for a king and you are quite correct that kings who rule without fear of God usually become overbearing and oppress their own people. That is the sad story of Solomon. In fact, the passage you reference below is Samuel’s prophecy concerning Solomon, wherein the king took much more than a tithe of that which had belonged to the people. Still, Judges and Ruth are written from the perspective that having no central authority, even an oppressive one, is worse than having a despot who keeps order. (Some of the rhetoric of the tea party folks in this past election was downright anarchistic and that should be distressing to any Christian.) As Paul lays out so clearly in Romans, chapter 13, government exists for the sake of justice and even bad government is better than no government.
In fact when the people of Israel decided they wanted a king, the modern day equivalent of a bigger powerful centralized government, God warns them against a king, telling them a king will make them slaves and take 10% of the goods the people produce. (1 Samuel 8: 9-18 )
Second, You accurately condemn big government bailouts of industry/banks. That is why getting back to a small limited federal government created by the founders would indeed be an improvement!
Also, “Republicat and Democran” is far too simplistic. While there are big government progressives in both parties. This primary season has seen a number of small government tea party candidates win election within the Republican party.
~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~
There are 2 radically different meanings of Social Justice.
The Biblical meaning is Christians using their abilities and resources to help others in need. God Commands us to do so.
The other meaning uses government to legally steal and redistribute wealth by force. This comes from Marx, not Christ.
It is very critical to understand which meaning of Social Justice the uses [sic] means.
~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~
America’s economy has traditionally been based on both free markets and charity driven by its Christian heritage. This model is not perfect, but has lead to a standard of living second to none. (If you disagree, please state which country is better, and why you haven’t moved there!)
(I suspect you do not really want me to respond to your parenthetical and rhetorical flourish. However, I found it hurtful and I need to comment. It reminded me of the sort of thing some of us had flung our way during the sixties when we deeply and profoundly disagreed with U.S. foreign policy and protested against it: “Love it or leave it!” Nations are not products that people leave easily or willingly. I have always loved my country although I have sometimes been ashamed of it. As a Christian I am called to serve my nation however I can. Sometimes that may mean taking up the mantle of the prophets who were sometimes viewed as unpatriotic for their criticism of the nation’s policies and leaders. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was teaching in the U. S. when he realized the wrong turns his nation was taking toward authoritarianism. He chose to return home to work against the rise of Hitler and the Nazis and that decision cost him his life. We need to avoid heat and aim for light.)
A community should decide whether to have government or private entity perform services (fire, police, garbage collection…). There are positives and negatives to both.
Government best functions at a local or state level. The US Constitution acknowledges that, and limits duties the Federal government can perform. We would be well served to begin following it more closely. States however are constitutionally free to offer whatever services they desire.
A good state to watch is Massachusetts. They are offering government healthcare for all. It will be interesting to see how well this works. Early signs are it is proving to be more expensive than budgeted.
~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~
3 Questions not related to this post, but there was no place for general comments:
1) The Bible often speaks of helping the needy. You make the leap to using a 3rd party to take resources from some people by force and using those resources to help the needy. Where do you find this in the Bible?
I am not sure what you mean by “a 3rd party?” In a society built on biblical principles, because the redistribution of wealth is necessary to the maintenance of good order, someone needs to collect that wealth and put it where it will do the most good. That is not the institutional church, which, as Peter remarked early in Acts, has other responsibilities besides “waiting tables.” In Judah, when the nation was obeying God, the redistribution would have occurred as a simple exchange between the owners of the fields and vineyards and olive trees and those who were in need. Then again, their society was still largely agricultural and was only just beginning to use money as a standard method of exchange. Since most wealth at the time was in crops, barter could still be the means of redistribution. Yet, as we see in New Testament times, what was excess among the faithful was turned into coin and then given to the leadership – eventually people set aside for that administrative purpose.
Eventually, however, as society differentiates, it is perfectly workable for the redistribution to be done by the government through taxes since taxes are already the good and necessary means by which we maintain those parts of our society which are held in common by all people: police, fire, some utilities, parks, inspections and permitting, libraries and other basic government services.
I could imagine a separate institution which coordinated the collection of resources for direct redistribution, but I cannot really see why such a redundancy would be any better than having the government do that through the normal taxation process. On the other hand, it is clear to me that the various ways in which wealth is redistributed needs to be differentiated and that the government has often taken a bureaucratic, demeaning approach to such services. Christian agencies and those from other value communities should be empowered to utilize a large portion of social service funds; we have a light touch and anyone who has ever dealt with such government agencies knows they can be quite heavy-handed.
All of this said, perhaps you can explain what you mean by a 3rd party. What are the first two parties and are you sure you are not just advocating an anachronism? In Torah, it was the priests that served as the housing inspectors. I do not think we should call upon modern clergy to check out our roof tiles and certify that the walls of our homes have no mold, although such activities are important enough to have found their way into Torah and are obviously a part of God’s justice/righteousness/shalom.
2) Beginning in the early 1900′s, a political movement (Progressivism) began to use the Courts to ban religion from everyday life. This movement has been adopted by the Democrat Party, and judges appointed by Democrats have recently voted to ban a War Memorial Cross that was erected after WWI.
Do you agree with the banning of religious activity (Crosses, Prayer, 10 Commandments) by the courts?
Should we vote for politicians that favor the courts banning religion?
Guilt by association is never a good method of judgment. It is certainly true that some people associated with progressivism at certain times were also “anti-clerical.” Christian progressivism, however, is much older than the expression of progressive thought and action that was founded by Robert La Follette, of Wisconsin, a former Republican, the movement to which you refer. However, to play the game for a moment, I notice that you mis-spell the adjective “Democratic” in the same way that Rush Limbaugh began doing a couple of decades ago. That person is one of the most gross and immoral examples of human life I know of on the planet today. I have never heard the man utter an accurate word about King Jesus or God or Scripture in his misbegotten Viagra and oxycontin-soaked life. And you mis-spell “Democrat” the same way he does! Do you visit the sex spas of Haiti with Limbaugh? I would have to be Glenn Beck to make that illogical jump from the one thing to the other, but then, that would be guilt by association! This game is not helpful.
Seriously, movements come and go. One of the earliest progressive movements was the Clapham sect of England. In this country, it was specifically progressive Christians whose biblical insights brought to life and coalesced the abolitionist movement which contributed to the end of slavery. Christian progressivism is an expression of the desire to see the dreams of the patriots realized, a nation of alabaster cities, “undimmed by human tear.” A big part of the accomplishment of that dream right now is involved in a reversal of the trends of the past thirty years during which an alarming majority of this nation’s wealth has been caught up into the control of less than 5% of the nation’s people. This is a destabilizing and dangerous trend which must be reversed before it is too late for our democracy. We can be a plutocracy or a democracy, not both.
Christian and non-Christian progressive populists stand together against what we consider the greatest internal danger our nation has ever faced. It is the very fear that James Madison wrote of in his letters, the thing he was afraid would some day end the “experiment in democracy,” that massive wealth would some day buy the votes of what should be the people’s legislators and so corrupt the power of government that it becomes the servant of a wealthy elite against a majority who are trained to vote against their own self-interest. I believe that very thing is happening today and I am truly and seriously frightened for my country.
3) You mention in your July blog that all forms of economic systems fall under God. That being the case, Should the US follow the economic system and government specified by the US Constitution?
The Constitution was and is the legal framework of the U. S. A. It is the covenant which the former colonists in 13 states made with each other after a looser confederation proved unworkable, recognizing that the document was flawed and would need amendment over time as does any human product.
And was it flawed? O, yes! I would not like to go back to the original Constitution which counted each indentured black person as a fraction of a human being and had the state legislatures elect each state’s Senators to Congress.
As a political document, the Constitution calls in its preamble for “a more perfect union” and notices the obligation of government to “provide for the general welfare.” Beyond such general remarks I was not aware that the Constitution specified an economic system at all. It is essentially a political document, written before politics became all about the economy.
~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~
I have read and re-read Scot’s comments and I have, above, made some remarks where he asked me some direct questions. That’s all I have to say for now. Scot makes some good points. I will refrain from further comment until some of you (and Scot) have had a chance to weigh in. I will have more to say after I read some of your comments. We have far to go, friends, but journey on we must, because Jesus loves us, this I know.
God’s blessings on you all!