Starting Hypothesis on Good Government.
Science starts with a hypothesis and looks for evidence that will prove, disprove or improve it.
So in coming to the Bible for a theory of good government, I want to put forward a starting hypothesis. I am also making an assumption: namely that the actual essence or qualities of good government can be set out independently of the type of government – king, president or parliament. Democratically elected or hereditary. Although of course some types of government may be much more likely to be good than others.
My starting hypothesis is this:
1. The government is there to serve the people, not the other way round. Just a general Biblical knowledge throws up texts like Ezekiel 32:4 “woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves, should not shepherds take care of the flock?” Indeed the common Biblical metaphor of “shepherds” to denote the national leaders – or government even by itself raises a notion of duty of care. Coming forward to the New Testament we have the familiar words of Jesus referring to himself as the Good Shepherd and saying in John 10 :11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep”. And as an example of God's character and actions as the supreme ruler of all, Jesus' words in Mark 10:45 “for even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”. So Jesus has set a very high standard for human rulers to aim for.
2. Any ruler or government is governing people who belong to God not to them, and have a fiduciary duty to God for how they govern. I am thinking of the many texts like 2 Samuel 7:8 “I … appointed you ruler over my people Israel” and Romans 13:1 “There is no authority except that which God has established”
Historically these have seldom been followed. Even in “Christian” England the doctrine was of the divine right of kings, rather then the divine duty of kings.
3. Enacting just laws, law enforcement and maintaining justice in the criminal and civil courts is a vital role of government. Again we will be looking for more detail, but verses like Isaiah 61:8 “I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing.” and even the Queen of Sheeba's observation to Solomon in 1 Kings 10:9 “(The Lord) has made you king to maintain justice and righteousness”.
4. Sound foreign policy and defence against external threat. I am including this in the hypothesis based on God's actions in raising up national military leaders as needed during the period of the “Judges”, the inspired actions of kings like David and Saul, and the advice given by prophets on these subjects although this was often rejected by the king of the time to their ruin. Think of Jeremiah's advice to Zedekiah not to rebel against his Babylonian overlord, and after he did so, to surrender and thus save both his life and the city. (Zedekiah rejected this advice and lost his life and the city was sacked). How this applies in modern times may be a more difficult question.
5. Maintain true religion. It will be interesting to consider how this is even possible in modern “secular” states, and a multi-religion society. Certainly past history in Western nations where either Protestants or Roman Catholics or Baptists, Quakers and other “dissenters” were persecuted is not something we should want to see again. However I want to leave it in our hypothesis for the present for two reasons: a) maybe governments always maintain a religion. At present many government agencies are subtly or not so subtly persecuting people with traditional Christian beliefs, because the popular religion of the ruling elites is an anti-Christian progressive socialism. b) In Old Testament times the moral or religious stance of the king – or sometimes a high priest or a prophet did effect the entire nation.
Naturally, we may find other necessary attributes of good government as we delve further.