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Lecture 24: Proverbs and Politics (part a)
Lecture: Proverbs and Politics Part A
The Spirit of God has given the sage insights into these proverbs and sayings which are ways in which people measure their own lives. If you stop listening to instructions, you will stray from the truth and from Words of Knowledge. We have looked at Solomon’s biography in 1st Kings 11 and the Chiastic structure; he put his own house before that of God’s house. That was the turning point in his life. We saw the purpose of the book and important terms. Wisdom is a social skills of know how in order to relate to people and God. We saw the relationship of wisdom to knowledge and skills that depend upon the knowledge of any discipline. With wisdom, without the knowledge of the Proverbs, we don’t use it skillfully. We have to learn how to interpret these words of insight. We talked about the whole rainbow of words for wisdom, instruction, prudence, guidance etc. in the Preamble. We talked about the Fear of the Lord and what it was. It is a collocation, you have to study it as a whole and the Fear of the Lord always includes revelation which is an objective reality to which we relate. It is the Word of God; this details the internal emotion of humility toward God and his Word. We do this because the fear of the Lord is based upon trust in God. Fear entails trust in the God who controls life and death. We have talked about the prologue and the book’s seven collections and all were by kings plus Agur who was an official involved in the court. We have collection two in chapter 10 of Solomon’s 375 proverbs and then we got the sayings of the wise that he adopted and adapted. We have the collection by the men of Hezekiah and then the collection of Agur and then King Lemuel’s mother in chapter 31.
A. Definition of Ethics, Morals and Politics
We will divide the lecture into three categories: introduction and then the body which include hermeneutical issues and motivations for a righteous and just government which includes the foundations for good government, the characteristics of a good ruler and how to have political influence. Then we have the conclusion which ends with Faith in God. I need to define some terms and also discuss the question of whether or not Christians should be involved in politics. I can tell you now that the secular world and the ACLU do not want us to be involved. In regards to definitions, we have the meaning of ethics. Politics is a branch of philosophy that deal with ethics of what is right and wrong in government, what is good government and what is bad government. And what is the difference between ethics and morality? Both relate to ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ conduct. Ethics, however, refers to the series of rules provided to an individual by an external source, e.g. their profession, the university guided by the Enlightenment, or the church guided by the Bible. Morals refer to an individual’s own principles regarding right and wrong. Morals are often derived from ethics. Proverbs aims to make the Solomon’s ethics/wisdom the son’s morals. Ethics is a branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending and recommending concepts and rules of right and wrong conduct, often addressing disputes of moral diversity. Politics involves the debate or conflict among individuals or parties with different views of ethics and morality, having or hoping to achieve power in government over those with the views of ethics and morality. The Oxford dictionary defines politics as the activities associated with the governance of a country or other area, especially the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power. As applied to the Book of Proverbs, they are activities associated with achieving the wisdom of the Book of Proverbs over wicked men and women, whose ethics are derived from what is right in their own eyes and whose morals may include killing the innocent. According to Bill Moyers, ideas are great arrows, but there has to be a bow and politics is the bow of idealism.
You can have the ethics of different professions such as dental, legal or any group of what is right and wrong within the group. These are things that have been handled down to you showing standards or right and wrong by which you behave. We see that people differ about what is right and what is wrong behavior. In Proverbs, the kings is setting up the system of behavior for the community of God hoping that those standards will be accepted by the son so that they will become his morality by which he behaves and become part of his own personal value system, he internalizes it to his own morals. They become the principle by which we operate. A Politian who wavers back and forth, we say that he is unprincipled, he has no absolute standards by which he behaves and without morals. One is more public and one is more private; one is more external, the other is more internal. Ethics doesn’t set absolute values, religion does this. It is religion that makes it authoritative. Note that if there is no God, then there is no absolute standard; that is why today, there is little mention of sin. Sin by definition means a violation of a standard of an authoritative absolute standard. If there is no God, we really don’t have values, only evaluations and you have no way of handing down those values because they could change. Ethics in itself has no authority.
The Basis for ethics for the Christian is the Scriptures and their conscience. Conscience is necessary but not universal as people differ. Augustus said, love God and do what you want, but Muslims say that same thing, love Allah but do what you want but the Muslim has a wrong definition of God which is false. He is a god of injustice and so the problem is; if you say love God, you need a definition of who God is. Within the conflict of politics, parties hope to achieve power within government and what rules and regulations will govern a group of people. So the question is, what rules will govern us. For example, if everyone practiced homosexuality, that would be end of the human race. It cannot be practiced universally as it is death. This is part of the culture of death and self-centered pleasure with no accountability for the next generation. This is how Christians will debate this idea. What about the unborn, abortion? What about paying CEO’s a huge salary and not giving the worker a proper wage? These are the issues we debate and we are trying to achieve a value system that will govern the people and what we will accept as individuals as our own morals. So what type of ethical system is going to govern us as a people? It will either be the values and ethics of Scripture or the values and ethics of the pragmatic person who has no absolute right and wrong. Values are always determined by consequences of what give me pleasure and what is right in your own eyes. You cannot escape this imposition of these values. So politics is the debate over what rules will govern people.
B. We Should Not Be Involved in Politics – Four Reasons
There are four reasons or arguments why we shouldn’t be involved in politics. There are those who are opposed to Christians being involved in politics and those who aren’t. The following is a negative assessment of Christian involvement. Some argue for the separation of church and state. This is a metaphorical description of the distance between religion and the civil government. But that difference varies in Christian understanding. Church is religion as revealed through the Bible for example, and the state is civil government. This difference differs even in Christian understanding and various social institutions. For example, the ACLU would argue that religion shouldn’t enter into politics or what the state does. Historically this was not what was meant by the separation of church and state in the framing of the constitution. This was not what Jefferson and the others had in mind. If you look at our history, it was assumes that the government would rest on the values of Christ. And as you look at the government with the Supreme Court you see the Bible everywhere. It wasn’t the purpose of the founders that the state wouldn’t have any form of God or religion. Historically, the state should not interfere with humankind’s worship and conscience and this worship and conscience would influence their political. Some organizations such as the Anabaptist, the Amish, Mennonites and Quakers thought that it meant not to be involved in politics in any way. They refuse to vote, carry arms or participate in civil government in any way. They believe that by not participating in government they are close to the kingdom of God, since Jesus answered Pilate, ‘My kingdom is not of this world, if it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.’ Christianity appeals to the freedom of the heart. It is amazing that that the moral persuasion of Christian won over Islam in Europe which had the sword to impose itself. This is one of the arguments that the Power of the Gospel dominated over Islam. This fails to recognize that Christians belong to the civil government and the spiritual Kingdom of God. We are citizens of two kingdoms in a way, of the state and of the spiritual kingdom of heaven.
In Matthew 22:21, we have, ‘give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.’ So we have to pay taxes as we belong to the state. Paul says in Romans 12:1-7, ‘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 them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.’ God gave rulers the sword and the power to uphold righteousness. They are God’s servant, agents of wrap to bring punishment on the wrong doers. The government prevents anarchy. Paul understands that the government restrains anarchy and evil. So long as the government represents God, it has the authority of God behind it, but if the government steps out from under God, it has no real authority behind it. Paul is assuming here that the government represents God’s righteousness; therefore it has God’s authority behind it. This is the same as the home. So long as the government represents God, they have the authority of God behind them. But when they violate God, then the child might have to disobey the parent. We must obey God and not man. We must participate in government because it is there to establish righteousness.
A second argument is that the church should prioritize its time and efforts to save souls. The world is likened to a sinking ship from which people need to be saved. When a ship is sinking, you don’t shine its brass, you make every effort to get people into life boats. Our total effort should go to winning people to faith in Christ and being involved in politics takes away from this fundamental calling. So we should worry about the political world and the state and it should not be our top priority. Christian political activity keeps the boat from sinking into Sheol and Abaddon. English reformers in the 19th century, such as Gladstone, saved England from the hell of the French revolution and subsequently from Napoleon’s debatably dictatorship and conquest of Europe. Abraham Lincoln emancipated Afro-Americans, and Martin Luther King gave them equality. This is more than shining brass; it is giving people a life. I would argue that Christian political activity is not shining brass on a sinking boat, but rather salt and light in a corrupt and dark world. So we need to make a situation where people can enjoy this life to the maximum and have their opportunities. So we die to the world to live for God: to turn away from things that don’t matter in light of death and eternity to things that do matter in those things. We should develop inner spiritual life, not outward political life. Finally, politics is a dirty business. You cannot wear a white suit into a coal mine and expect to come out of it without a black spot. Jose Maria de Eca de Queiroz, one of the greatest Portuguese writer in the realist style says that politicians and diapers should be changed frequently and all for the same reason. Harry S. Truman comments ‘that his choice early in life was either to be a piano player in a whorehouse or a politician. And to tell the truth, there’s hardly any difference.’ So the first is separation of church and state, the second one is to define where our priorities are. Yes, they are spiritual and heaven is eternal but that doesn’t take away from the value of this life. Thirdly, politics is a dirty business. You can’t be involved in politics without being blackened.
The fourth reason why we shouldn’t be involved in politics is that the church loses its universal appeal. That is, once you identify with a political party, you alienate those of a different party. Alexis de Tocqueville say that by sharing the passions of the world, defending the peculiar interests of its political allies, and joining the temporal power of the state it merely created animosity and alienation.
C. We Should Be Involved in Politics
There are ten reasons given here. The first reason is that politics is inevitable and inescapable. The second reason is that religion and politics are inseparable, you really can’t separate church and state. The third reason is that a just government is the foundation for a nation’s economic prosperity social well-being. When I say a just government, I mean that justice is where you punish the oppressor and you deliver the oppressed. Christians should be involved in ending tyranny of oppression; of the rich and powerful who often oppress the poor and laborer, taking advantage of them. This will lead to a richer and well-being of a country. Fourth, within a democracy, every eligible citizen rules: people replace the king. We are the government and we can’t escape this point. And the question is, do we rule according to Scripture or our own self-interest? The fifth reason shows that the wise recognize they are in a spiritual war with fools. Then with the sixth reason, the wise restrain evil by punishing wrong doers. We are salt and light, we are to restrain evil. If we are not involved, then corruption will spread much more rapidly. We are a restraining influence as ministers of righteousness. The seventh reason is simply if we choose non-involvement, this is a vote for the wicked. The eighth reason is the freedom and opportunity of future generations depend on the present generation’s political action. We determine what life will be for the next generation. It isn’t just our own situation but we are setting up the government for our children and what they will live in. We must look to the future. The ninth reason is that apostolic teaching and practice involve political activity. If we are to pray for Godliness and holiness of our leaders; we are the leaders and thus shouldn’t we be involved in Godliness and holiness? This is logical. Finally, the reality is the anti-Christian bias now rules western politics, if not world politics.
First, politics is inevitable and inescapable. The Book of Proverbs assumed and pre-supposes it. It was written by kings, rulers and by those who are in government. Originally, the proverbs were addressed to young officials, the new judges and rulers for ruler-ship. Many of the proverbs were composed out of that kind of context. In Collection # 1, Proverbs 8:12-21 and verse 15: ‘by me kings reign and rulers issue decrees that are just; by me princes govern, and nobles – all who rule on earth.’ In collection # 2, Proverbs 16:10-15, specifically proverbs 16:10 & 15, ‘the lips of a king speak as an oracle, and his mouth does not betray justice. When a king’s face brightens, it means life; his favor is like a rain cloud in spring. Every verse, apart from verse 11, mentions ‘the king.’ In collection # 3, Proverbs 23:1-3, we have in verse 1, ‘when you sit to dine with a ruler, note well what is before you.’ In Collection VII, Proverbs 31:1, ‘the sayings of King Lemuel – an inspired utterance his mother taught him.’ There is an interesting quote by Confucius, ‘to put the world right in order, we must first put the nation in order, to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right.’ So the individual influences the whole family, the family influences the nation and the nation influences the world. Right from the beginning, man is creating in the image of God and what that means is, as the image of God, you represent his rule.