person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he
gave." Calvin Coolidge.
Our first visit to Santa Maria, Californias downtown mall came
soon after I began working at nearby Vandenberg Air Force Base. Wed moved there from
Kennedy Space Center, Florida, where our then-3-year-old daughter, Yvette, had often seen
large reptiles sunning themselves along the NASA causeway. Now she spotted the moving
stairway leading to the malls upper floor. Remembering Florida, she exclaimed
excitedly "Daddy, lets go up the alligator!"
We laughed at how innocently shed borrowed a word from her
background. But later I realized I, too, had "gone up the alligator." Id
accepted ideas about government from relatives, friends, co-workers, even ministers,
without thinking twice. But now, when I "dug" into Scripture, I found to my
surprise that my alligator hadnt read the Bible! Yes, his ideas were appealing. But
many of them flatly disagreed with Scripture.
Id always believed government would have no place in a book like
this. But my own study proved me wrong. As well see, Scripture teaches that a
nations government does have key roles in "loving and
helping" its citizens.
One example: my grandfathers family brought him to America from
Denmark at age 5. He grew up wanting his own farm. He worked hard in the grain harvests of
the Dakotas and walked the "north woods" of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan as
a "timber cruiser." But neither gave him enough money to buy land.
Yet he got his farm! A government program let him "homestead"
his chosen acreage in the forests of Michigans Upper Peninsula.
A giveaway? No. He earned the land with "sweat equity,"
investing years of hard work turning the wooded hills into useable acreage. One by one, by
hand, he cut down every tree in what would later become his fields. Then he laboriously
pulled or blasted every single stump from the ground.
Even when the trees were cleared, the work wasnt over. Much of
western Upper Michigans "soil" is just glacial rocks with a little dirt
between them. Before the land could grow crops, my grandparents had to throw many
thousands of those stones onto rockpiles. Each spring the frost brought a new batch to the
surface, and they too had to be "picked." We were still doing that forty years
But the hard work was worth it. The 120 acres were his, thanks to one
government program that, knowingly or not, followed the Bibles admonition that
governments should help their poor.
How does the Bible portray a nations leaders?
Scripture compares heads of government to shepherds or parents.
"Representatives of all the tribes of Israel now came to David
... and gave him their pledge of loyalty.
"We are your blood brothers, they said ... The Lord
has said that you should be the shepherd and leader of his people.
"So David made a contract before the Lord with the leaders of Israel there at
Hebron, and they crowned him king of Israel" (2 Sam. 5:1-3).
More Scriptures: 2 Sam. 7:7; 1 Chron. 11:1-3; 17:6; Ps. 78:71-72; Isa.
22:19-24; 56:9-11; Jer. 23:1-4; 50:6-7, Ezek. 34:2; 34:18-19; Zech. 10:3; 11:4-6;
What are governments responsibilities?
Government helps its people.
Should a nations leaders priorities be fame? Wealth?
Beating the other party? The Bible says their goal is to love and help the countrys
citizens Thats how Solomon began his illustrious reign:
"That night God appeared to Solomon and told him,
Ask me for anything, and I will give it to you!
"Solomon replied, O God, you have ... made me king over a
nation as full of people as the earth is full of dust! Now give me wisdom and knowledge to
rule them properly, for who is able to govern by himself such a great nation?
"God replied, Because your greatest desire is to help your
people, and you havent asked for personal wealth and honor, and you havent
asked me to curse your enemies, and you havent asked for a long life, but for wisdom
and knowledge to properly guide my people yes, I am giving you the wisdom and
knowledge you asked for! And I am also giving you riches, wealth, and honor such as no
other king has ever had before you! And there will never again be so great a king in all
the world!" (2 Chron. 1:7-12).
Good rulers serve their people:
"Mordecai the Jew was the Prime Minister, with authority next
to that of King Ahasuerus himself. He was, of course, very great among the Jews and
respected by all his countrymen because he did his best for his people and was a friend at
court for all of them" (Esther 10:3).
One ancient passage is curiously modern:
"If you see some poor man being oppressed by the rich, with
miscarriage of justice ... don't be surprised! For every official is under orders from
higher up, and the higher officials look up to their superiors. And so the matter is lost
in red tape and bureaucracy ... Oh, for a king who is devoted to his country! For only he
can bring order from this chaos" (Eccl. 5:8-9).
Before Samuel made Saul Israels first king, he warned the
nation that its future kings would often serve themselves:
"If you insist on having a king, he will conscript your sons
and make them run before his chariots; some will be made to lead his troops into battle,
while others will be slave laborers; they will be forced to plow in the royal fields and
harvest his crops without pay, and make his weapons and chariot equipment. He will take
your daughters from you and force them to cook and bake and make perfumes for him ... You
will shed bitter tears because of this king you are demanding" (1 Sam. 8:11-18).
The Israelites still insisted on a king (1 Sam. 8:19-20), so
God gave them one. And many kings did fulfil that prophecy. Even Solomon drifted
away from his own wisdom. 2 Chron. 10:4-16 tells how his son Rehoboam split the
kingdom in two when he forgot that he was to serve his people.
"Your father was a hard master, they said.
Be easier on us than he was, and we will let you be our king!
"Rehoboam ... discussed their demand with the old men who had
counseled his father Solomon.
"What shall I tell them? he asked.
"If you want to be their king, they replied, ...
give them a favorable reply and treat them with kindness.
"But he rejected their advice and asked the opinion of the young
men who had grown up with him. What do you fellows think I should do? he
asked. Shall I be easier on them than my father was?
"No! they replied. Tell them, If you think
my father was hard on you, just wait and see what Ill be like! ... I am
going to be tougher on you, not easier! My father used whips on you, but Ill use
"So the king turned down the peoples demands ... When
the people realized what the king was saying, they turned their backs and deserted him.
"Forget David and his dynasty! they shouted angrily.
Well get someone else to be our king. Let Rehoboam rule his own tribe of
Also read: Deut. 17:14-20; 1 Kings 3:5-14; 12:4-17; 1 Chron.
28:8-9; Neh. 5:14-15; Prov. 29:2; Isa. 3:12-15; 7:17.
Government maintains law and order.
"My daily task will be to ferret out criminals and free the city
of God from their grip" (Ps. 101:8).
"So those who refuse to obey the laws of the land are refusing to
obey God, and punishment will follow. For the policeman does not frighten people who are
doing right; but those doing evil will always fear him ... The policeman is sent by God to
help you. But if you are doing something wrong, of course you should be afraid, for he
will have you punished. He is sent by God for that very purpose" (Rom. 13:2-4; also
Prov. 20:26; Eccl. 8:2-5; 1 Pet. 2:13-14).
Lack of law and order struck me late one hot California night.
Id just pulled up to a rural grocery store when two men
approached my car. Suddenly one of them opened the passenger door, climbed in, and told me
to drive away!
My first unbelieving thought was "Ive just been
carjacked!" The second was "Will I ever see my family again?"
My self-invited passenger was high on drugs. He alternated between
cursing violently and talking about God. I tried to play on his sympathy for my kids,
whod suffered sunburns in the days 118-degree heat. He finally agreed
wed stop for lotion. I didnt want to guess whether the kids would ever see it.
As we entered the drugstore, he stayed close. No chance to get away.
But after we returned to the car, he remembered something else he wanted. "Wait
here," he told me.
Instead, I floored the accelerator. And after that I always locked both
Mystery writer Patricia Cornwell says law and order are part of loving
our neighbors. "Weve got to bring humanity back into what we do ... This is not
about politics or power or merely rounding up offenders. Policing ... must be about all of
us getting along and helping each other." (Cornwell, Hornets Nest,
Berkeley Books, c1996, p. 230.)
Government provides national security.
Israels armies varied greatly from time to time. Under the
Judges, they were often only called to duty as needed. Later, David formed a permanent
army of twelve 24,000-man regiments (also called divisions), each of which saw active duty
one month per year (1 Chron 27:1-15). Jehoshophat, in contrast, had an army of over
1,100,000 men in Jerusalem alone, and placed more in fortified cities across the nation (2
Israels laws exempted men from military service if
theyd built a new house but hadnt yet dedicated it; planted a vineyard but not
yet eaten its fruit; were engaged but not yet married; or were simply afraid (Deut.
I was an aerospace/defense planner for 12 years, and worked with
many former military officers. None were like many movies portray them.
Self-centered? Ambitious? Crazed? Not at all. Some were tough. But all were
thoughtful. Disciplined. Considerate. Caring. Often kind.
Humor? Yes. One of my co-workers trained in tanks at Ft. Campbell,
Kentucky. After a heavy rain, his crew worried aloud to their supervisor that the downpour
had made one large mudhole on the training course too dangerous. "No problem,"
the trainer said. "This baby will go right through it!"
Doug and his crew werent convinced. They got an idea.
They went to the spare parts depot and signed out a tank cannon and radio antenna. Back at
the mudhole, they inserted the antenna and cannon into the soft goo at appropriate places
and angles. Then they radioed their "boss."
"Sir, could you come over here? We think we have a problem!"
Government helps its residents well-being.
Gods wishes for the people he has created
in any nation are movingly described in strong parallels to the 23rd
Psalm found in Ezekiel 34:13-15: "I will feed
them upon the mountains of Israel and by the rivers where the land is fertile and good.
Yes, I will give them good pasture on the high hills of Israel. There they will lie down
in peace and feed in luscious mountain pastures. I myself will be the Shepherd of my
sheep, and cause them to lie down in peace" (Also read Isa. 49:9-11).
But what if a nations leaders dont care for the
poor, needy, hungry, sick, handicapped, children, elderly, and homeless? Then Ezekiel and
other Old Testament prophets strongly condemn the leaders!
"You fed yourselves and let them starve; therefore, I am
against the shepherds, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock.
I will take away their right to feed the flock - and take away their right to eat"
"You havent ... gone looking for those who
have wandered away and are lost ... they were scattered ... My sheep wandered through the
mountains and hills and over the face of the earth, and there was no one to search for
them or care about them ... you abandoned my flock ... and you were no real shepherds at
all, for you didnt search for them" (Ezek. 34:4-8).
"Help [the king] to defend the poor and needy ... May the poor
and needy revere you constantly!
"May the reign of this son of mine ... take care of the helpless
and poor when they cry to him; for they have no one else to defend them. He feels pity for
the weak and needy and will rescue them. He will save them from oppression and from
violence, for their lives are precious to him" (Ps. 72:4-6; 72:12-14)
More Scriptures: Gen. 41:33-40; 47-57; 2 Sam. 9:19; Jer.
23:1-4; Ezek. 34:2-4; 34:11-16; 34:20-23; 34:29; Zech. 11:16.
Those Scriptures came alive for my own family in the 1990s, when
government budget cuts reportedly cost the jobs and homes of as many defense-worker
families as the combined populations of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Utah
including us! There were few news reports on those people. Liberals didnt
want to admit that reducing defense programs had human costs. Conservatives applauded the
cuts and consistently refused help.
Could we have "beaten our swords into plowshares" (Isa.
2:4) and converted those wartime jobs into peacetime ones? In medicine? Space?
Technology? Of course we could have! But we didnt try.
How we treated all those families was how we treated Jesus. Will God
More Scriptures: Prov. 28:15; 29:14; 31:4-5; 31:8-9; Isa.
1:23-27; Jer. 22:15-16; Dan. 4.27.
Government provides justice for all.
"I am ready to judge you because of all the evil you are
doing. Quick! Give justice to these you judge! Begin doing what is right before my burning
fury flashes out upon you like a fire no man can quench" (Jer. 21:11-12).
Also read: 1 Kings 10:9; 1 Chron. 18:14; 2 Chron. 9:8; Ps. 45:5;
58:1-2; 58:11; 72:1-2; Prov. 8:14-16.
Government is fair and honest.
"If a king is kind, honest, and fair, his kingdom stands
secure" (Prov. 20:28).
More Scriptures: Prov. 16:10; 16:12; 28:2; 28:16; 29:4; Isa.
54:14; Luke 3:10-14.
Is good government a "one-man show?"
One summer my family and I visited the public library in Challis,
Idaho, set in a vast, beautiful region of mountains, rivers and forests.
When we entered, the librarian was helping another customer.
Afterwards, she told us the lady had wanted to know whether residents would have any legal
recourse if they lost property because the city had no police.
That got my attention. "Verna," I asked, "Challis is the
largest town in a very large county. Its also the county seat. Why doesnt it
have a police force?" I expected a typical Western answer involving some dispute
between the city, county, and/or state.
Verna shrugged her shoulders, spread her arms expressively, and
Later, as we drove back down the main street, my oldest daughter spoke
up: "Dad! Now you can speed!"
In small towns like Challis, some government departments must be
a "one-man show." That can actually make such places good career choices. At my
first state conference after accepting a library job in Idaho, I was named chairman-elect
of our associations Public Libraries Division. Why? Because I was good? No! Because
the entire state then had only five other public librarians with Masters degrees,
and theyd all been chairman already! Later, I served on several state-wide
committees, was elected president of the Idaho Library Association, and served as the
state director for National Library Week (with a $50 budget try that for
learning to be creative!). Id never have gotten those opportunities in a
But most governments need larger staffs. Listen to Moses lament:
"...I cant carry this nation by myself! The load is far
too heavy! If you are going to treat me like this, please kill me right now; it will be a
kindness! Let me out of this impossible situation!"
"Then the Lord said to Moses, Summon before me seventy of
the leaders of Israel ... I ... will take of the Spirit which is on you and will put it
upon them also; they shall bear the burden of the people along with you" (Num.
Good organization and capable staff members are vital to good
government. The reverse is true too. "A wicked ruler will have wicked aides on his
staff" (Prov. 29:12).
Israels exile occurred during the time of several of the
worlds greatest empires. The Bible provides fascinating glimpses into how they were
organized and administered. Read: Ezra 7:25; Dan. 1:3-5; 1:18-21; 2:48-49; 3:30; 5:16;
5:29; 6:1-3; 6:28.
What does the Bible teach about our responsibility toward other countries?
God condemned Edom for not helping Israel during the Conquest. Instead,
Edom cheered Israels downfall and helped her enemies.
Israels plight was a result of her own sin. Yet, even then, God
expected Israels neighbor Edom to stand by her, not make Israels problems
"I will cut you down to size among the nations, Edom, making
you small and despised.
"And why? Because of what you did to your brother Israel ... For
you deserted Israel in its time of need. You stood aloof, refusing to lift a finger to
help him when invaders carried off his wealth...
"You should not have done it. You should not have gloated ... you
should not have rejoiced ... you should not have mocked ... You made yourselves rich at
"As you have done to Israel, so will it be done to you"
(Obad. 1:2; 1:10-16; also read Isa. 34: 5-8.)
Why was God so angry with Edom?
When the Nazis overran much of Europe during World War II, they tried
to exterminate all Jews. As in the story of Anne Frank, brave non-Jewish families saved
many Jewish lives at the risk, and sometimes loss, of their own.
And though God didnt expect Edom to save Israel from judgment, he
did expect it to ease Israels suffering. When Edom did the opposite, God judged Edom
God judged several of Israels other bordering nations too. They
included Moab (Jer. 48:27; Ezek. 25:8-11), Ammon (Ezek. 21:28-32; 25:2-7; Jer.
49:1-2), the Philistines (Ezek. 25:15-17), Tyre (Ezek. 26:2; 28:19),
Sidon (Ezek. 28:21-26), and Mt Seir (Ezek. 35:1-15). Even Egypt was judged "because
... your might collapsed when Israel called on you for aid" (Ezek.
29:2-12). Ironically, Egypt was punished despite the fact that Israel disobeyed God by
asking for that help in the first place (Ezek. 29:16).
Also read: 2 Chron. 28:8-15; Ezek. 28:26; Zech. 1:14-17.
We often criticize government for spending money abroad instead of
at home. Yet Gods Word teaches that he does hold us responsible for helping
other nations in their times of need. If we dont, we may be judged as Edom and her
What should our attitude be toward taxes?
"Pay your taxes too, for these same two reasons. For government
workers need to be paid so that they can keep on doing Gods work, serving you. Pay
everyone whatever he ought to have: pay your taxes and import duties gladly" (Rom.
Also read: Matt. 17:24-27; 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke
Are taxes too high?
Well always think so.
But my family once received a forceful lesson on the value of taxes.
BOOM! The loud explosion woke our son Bill at 1:10 AM. Was that a gunshot? He reached
for the phone, then from his door saw the glow of a fire, and called 911 for the fire
department instead. That woke Yvette, who rushed outside to look, then came back to help
Bill wake my wife and me. "Dont panic, but you might want to get dressed.
Our neighbors house is on fire!"
A large "5th wheel" RV parked near the
neighbors garage had exploded without warning. It set fire to the home, garage,
shed, and several pickups, snowmobiles, and 4-wheelers. All were a total loss. We woke in
time to hear a long series of explosions from propane tanks, gas tanks, and tires,
accompanied by a loud screeching roar from a broken natural gas pipe that ignited like a
volcano. I quickly took several pictures from the porch, accompanied by cries of
"Dad! Get back in here! The trucks gas tanks are going to blow!"
A sheriffs deputy knocked on our door to evacuate us. We spent
the next couple of hours standing a block away, watching the firefighters battle the
blaze, while ash and burning debris fell around us from the night sky like fiery-orange
snowflakes. Even after the worst of the blaze was contained, we watched firefighters
bravely walking on the homes roof, cutting holes through which flames from the attic
were still burning.
The next morning, the 5th wheel was in large pieces all over
the parking lot. Its occupant had been thrown onto the garage roof, but miraculously
survived. (Our neighbor himself was in New Mexico.) Many neighboring homes had beds moved,
windows broken, curtain rods knocked off the walls, or siding melted. But thanks to those
valiant firefighters our home had no damage, though the yard and house were covered with
burnt debris and soot. We gained new respect and admiration for firefighters and the job
Our yearly tax bill for the firemen who protected our house? About $15.
In fact, taxes are the least costly way to pay for many of our
families needs. Police, fire protection, schools, roads, water, sewers, retirement,
and others are most effectively and economically met through government agencies.
Lets be honest: taxes are a key way we care for our families!
"But anyone who wont care for his own relatives when they need
help, especially those living in his own family, has no right to say he is a Christian.
Such a person is worse than the heathen" (1 Tim. 5:8).
Gen. 47:13-26 tells how Joseph imposed a 20% tax on
farmers harvests. Today, tax watch groups would have fought it fiercely! But
sometimes, to "love and help," we need to "dig deep."
Do we always consider the value of taxes? Or what wed pay without
The worst potholes Ive ever seen in the US were in one state
where cutting taxes was almost a religion. Besides the potholes, chunks of concrete were
falling off deteriorating bridges. One major highway we drove regularly was dangerous at
night because lane markers hadnt been repainted after twisting canyon roads had been
Was that good or bad economy? The answers easy. A dollar spent
filling potholes would have saved drivers many times that in repairs. The unpainted lanes
guaranteed wrecks and injuries. In that state public needs got lip service, but in fact
were a distant second.
That state wasnt alone. A snowplow driver from a neighboring
state told me that his department balanced its budget by not allowing overtime, no matter
what. If a blizzard struck, they didnt call out extra crews. When their 40-hour week
was up, they stopped work whether the roads were cleared or not!
Yet its true we must be careful how we raise taxes. Beginning in
the 1970s, rising California real estate prices caused matching increases in
property taxes. Homeowners living on fixed incomes simply couldnt pay them. Many
lost their homes. Nehemiah 5:18 says, "I refused to make a special levy
against the people, for they were already having a difficult time."
What do we do? Look at needs. Look at ability. Look at results. Try to
get the best return for our money.
Does modern technology raise or lower taxes?
Paradoxically, both. Computers, cars, planes, phones, TV, and
satellites help government be far more efficient and economical. Ask government workers
how theyd like to do their jobs without a computer! But those modern innovations
also require whole new areas of investment and regulation. Paved roads, traffic lights,
air traffic control systems, information technology, and more, all cost money.
Is that spending worth it?
One man gave me an emphatic "yes." I was eating breakfast at
a restaurant in a rural California county. The customer beside me was the manager of a new
drugstore being built across the street. As we chatted, he told me hed had to tear
out and replace every bit of plumbing in the new building, at a cost of many thousands of
Because that low-tax countys building department had given him
the wrong plumbing specifications!
He told me, "I came here from an urban county, where I also built
a drugstore for our chain. I was frustrated with that countys building department
because it seemed to take forever to get information I needed. But when it came, it was
right. Here, I get it right away and its wrong!"
What about laws we disagree with?
"Obey the government, for God is the one who has put it there.
There is no government anywhere that God has not placed in power. So those who refuse to
obey the laws of the land are refusing to obey God, and punishment will follow" (Rom.
Also read: Prov. 24:21-22; 28:4; 28:9; and Eccl. 8:2-3.
Of course, there are alternatives. At Big Springs, in eastern Idaho near
Yellowstone Park, 120,000,000 gallons of 52-degree water flow out from beneath the
mountain every day to form the Henrys Fork of the Snake River. The springs are a
visitors delight, in large part because theyre filled with gigantic trout,
plainly protected with "No Fishing" signs.
One local story claims that years ago a tourist from Iowa drove up, parked, and
strolled along the path to the bridge where the huge fish are especially abundant, passing
the park ranger who was leaning casually against a tree.
The tourist saw the fish. His eyes bulged out. He rushed to his car, opened the trunk,
grabbed his fishing pole, and raced back to the bridge, ignoring the ranger.
The Iowan tossed his line in the water and pulled out a two-foot trout. The ranger
strolled up casually, extended his hand, and said politely "Thatll be a
ten-dollar fine, please."
The tourist pulled out his wallet, handed the ranger a hundred-dollar-bill, and said
"Ill take nine more!"
Do more than required.
During the Roman occupation of Israel, soldiers often forced civilians
to carry their heavy packs a mile. It was hard. Jesus solution? Do twice as much!
Show that youre responsible. Let your actions shame the "unreasonable"
"If the military demand that you carry their gear for a mile,
carry it two" (Matt. 5:41).
Should Christians be conservatives or liberals?
What was Jesus? A conservative? A liberal?
The Bibles answer is clear.
Its "no." A strong "no," to both of
Jesus constantly fought both the liberals and conservatives.
The liberals, because theyd forgotten to love God. The conservatives, because
theyd forgotten to love their neighbors. And both, because they rejected him.
Surprisingly, almost eight times as many verses describe his clashes with
the conservative, Bible-believing Pharisees as with the liberal Sadducees!
If early Christians could have voted, what would they have done? Want
to love God? Couldnt vote liberal (Sadducee). Care about loving their neighbors?
Couldnt support conservatives (Pharisees).
Today, those who want to love both God and their neighbors face
the same dilemma.
Yes, there are issues now that didnt exist then. But the
underlying attitudes of both liberals and conservatives today are so similar to
those in Jesus day that I have to believe hed say much the same things to both
of them now!
During elections, then, how can we be please God?
Theres no perfect answer. My family tries to look at candidates
individually. We ask whos qualified to do a good job in that position. We check
impartial sources and voting records. We try to see who best shares own goals and values.
And we consider the many practical, day-to-day issues that need to be addressed
responsibly, but have nothing to do with our ideology.
Weve always selected a few candidates from both parties. If
theres a common factor, its that most are moderates, and all care about their
I believe Christ accepts us whatever our politics. His followers
included anti-government zealots and Roman government tax collectors. But Ive heard
too many pastors urge us to support just one party and drive away people for whom
Do we say "were against abortion because it costs
lives?" But then shouldnt we also make sure our "neighbors" can feed
their families, and see doctors promptly to check lumps in their breasts? If we searched,
how many lives would we learn are lost through problems like those? I suspect wed be
Do we love those lives too? How can we ignore them? Shouldnt we
be consistent? Shouldnt we vote to help all the kinds of
"neighbors" the Bible teaches us to love, not just one?
Lets learn from groups who take the time to learn the facts behind
public issues, like the League of Women Voters. Is the League always right?
Im sure its not. But thanks to working with it during the six years I was a
city division head, I respect it highly and strongly wish more "Christian"
groups would adopt its methods.
Read. Study. Listen. Watch candidate forums. Read news summaries.
Dont assume broadcasts or e-mails are true. Look up candidate Internet sites and
informative but neutral sites like Congressional Quarterlys.
Remember Prov. 18:15: "The intelligent man is always open to
new ideas. In fact, he looks for them."
Vote in an informed, community-building way. Thats an important
part of loving all of our neighbors.
"Show respect for everyone ... Fear God and honor the government" (1 Peter