The Role of the Government
Today, the US government provides us a vast range of services. You can get some sense of these services simply by looking at the number of departments: there are specific departments for housing, transportation, energy, education, commerce, veterans affairs, and many other services. These departments – along with multiple laws passed by Congress – ensure clean water, provide welfare, manage our borders, dictate the size of hospital hallways, provide guidance for judges, and tell us what ingredients we can put in our foods.
What is the real purpose of government? Did God intend for it to manage all these aspects of life? If we were to boil it down to its essential purpose, what is the reason for having government?
The Biblical Role of Government
The apostle Paul provides Christians with clear teaching on the government in Romans 13. This chapter explains that government comes from God, and that Christians need to be subject to the government. Why? Because, as Paul explains,
“…rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:3-4).
This passage reveals two essential roles of government. First, government is to approve of what is good. Second, government is to avenge God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. This is the whole duty of government.
Approve and Avenge
What does it mean for the government to ‘approve’ of what is good? This doesn’t mean that the government is in the role of determining what we should believe. Rather, this refers to conduct. The government doesn’t need to approve of what we believe, but of how we act. How does the government make this approval? By allowing us to live quietly and peaceably – in other words, the government approves of the one with good conduct by letting him live without interference.
On the other hand, the government is responsible to avenge God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. That is what separates the government institution from so many other institutions. The government can rightly bear a sword, holding the power of life and death. No other organization carries such awesome power and responsibility.
And how is the government to use this responsibility? The government punishes wrongdoers through the police force and through the military – the two arms of government that punish evil inside the border and outside the border.
Is the government able to do anything else? Is it wrong for the government to do more than this? First, we can assume that the government is responsible not only for these bare-bones duties, but also for those duties that are implied by approving and avenging. For example, the government needs to be able to engage in treaties or declare wars, in order to effectively avenge on the evildoer. It needs to raise taxes (as Paul mentions earlier in the chapter) in order to fund its activities. It can operate a veteran’s service, since that is involved in overseeing those who avenge evil (the military). There are other services, as well, that the government can do because they are implied in these twin ideas of approving and avenging.
In fact, when you look at the powers of the federal government in the Constitution, what you find is that this is essentially what the government is designed to do: approve and avenge.
Nowadays, the government is a sprawling behemoth with its fingers in every pot. This isn’t because the government has a divine mandate for all these activities. It’s because We the People have shirked our responsibilities and see government as the panacea for our problems.