Jesus would keep his oath to uphold the Constitution. And if a law were constitutional, he would consider whether it was an appropriate exercise of the authority which he ordained for civil government, and whether it crossed over the line into authority which he ordained to individuals, the family and the church. Will we get it wrong sometimes? Yes, but even a wrong political decision cannot separate us from the love of God.
In a recent FAN in which I discussed a potential “positive” from the federal health care bill, I was asked by a reader what I thought “Jesus would do.” Well, I’m not Jesus, and as my former Senate colleagues will tell you, I often said that I am one whose feet are made of clay. But for the theologically inclined, here are my reflections, which I’m sure will generate more feedback than I can respond to.
Jesus Would Keep His Oath
First, as I mentioned in my original article, the first issue for a federal representative is always, “Is the proposed law constitutional?” So, if I were in Congress and trying to be like Jesus, I would have to consider fidelity to my oath to uphold the Constitution. Because Jesus was “the Truth” and because it is impossible for God to lie, I could not violate my oath and vote for a bill that is unconstitutional. Whether the federal health care bill is constitutional is another question, but if I thought it were, I could not vote for it. Jesus takes our “yeas and nays” pretty seriously.
Jesus Wouldn’t Confuse Government with Individual Authority
But if I believed the national health care bill were constitutional, what other things might I be called upon to think about if I were to try to think like Jesus (and I have no insight any greater than any other person who takes the Bible seriously, and some might think I have less than most)? Believing that God has created a social order governed by his law and judgments, I would want to make sure that I didn’t vote for something that would cause civil government to violate God’s created design by exercising authority which God did not give to government when he ordained and established it.
In that regard, it seems to me that the jurisdictional authority of civil government is very, very different from that of individuals. For example, orthodox Christianity has historically and rightly noted that God denied to individuals the right to execute God’s judgment and wrath in the closing verses of Romans 12, while he granted this authority to civil government in the verses that immediately follow in Romans 13. I would note, too, in I Peter 2:14, that the magistrate is to punish evil yet only to commend/praise the good. This instruction and admonition seems to me consistent with Jesus’ answer in Luke 12:13 to the man who complained that his brother was not dividing up the father’s inheritance according to law. Jesus left the legal issue to the civil magistrate, who had certain authority over actions (there probate matters), but Jesus chose to exercise that authority which only God has—authority over matters of the heart (there the man’s greed).
Seems to me that this is consistent with the picture of a magistrate bearing a sword (relative to actions that can be judged) and the distinction between active punishment of evil and only commending/praising the good.
We often say, “You can’t legislate morality,” but that’s not exactly true. All law is a reflection and enactment into law of someone’s moral and ethical values. But what we can’t do is make people live moral and ethical lives. We can’t make people be good. But government can punish evil acts (but then not even all evil acts, the reasons for which I don’t have time to address) which effectively affirms its opposite—the good.
Jesus Would Love Us in Spite of Our Wrong Conclusions
So, I submit that what Jesus would have me do as an individual person is not the same as what Jesus would have the ruler do, for they have different roles and functions in God’s social order. We do not do well when we confuse the different institutions in God’s social order—the individual, the family, the church and the civil government. In fact, I would submit that when one oversteps its bounds, it does harm to the others as the equilibrium of the social order gets out of balance.
These distinctions reflect an historical understanding of Scripture that has been lost to modern Christianity that seems to have focused on grace to the exclusion of truth and has often despised as “old-fashioned” the wealth of knowledge we could glean from wise, godly men who have studied and worked out Christian doctrine over the centuries.
What would Jesus do? I know this much, as his child he would still love me, even if I reached the wrong conclusion.