Joel Belz: God’s Word vs. government


MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, May 8th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Rules and regulations try to direct the human heart. But as WORLD Founder Joel Belz says, it doesn’t really work as well as we’d like.

JOEL BELZ, FOUNDER: When I argue, as I have for the last 25 years, that we evangelical Christians should seek to codify as little of God’s law as possible, it’s easy to be misunderstood. So let me clarify.

I start with two main assumptions.

First, I assume what the Bible says about God: His main method of bringing humans into compliance with his law is through the work of his Spirit.

Second, I assume what both the Bible and our experience throughout history teach us about government: Efforts to micromanage human behavior through public law tend to end up in messy disaster.

Even when God was governing Israel’s literal theocracy directly, he had an impressively skinny book of laws. Put your fingers around the entirety of the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, and you’ll find it’s not a whole lot bigger than Medicare’s annual directory of updates.

I’m not ignoring the possibility that Israel’s judges may have started to accumulate a few interpretive tablets on the side. But it’s noteworthy that a nation about the size of Pennsylvania seems to have run itself pretty well with this slender constitution. Wise judges could make things work.

Indeed, this minimal code of civil legislation is clearly based on the much more concise statement of God’s laws in the Ten Commandments. And then Jesus compressed those 10 rules down to just two!

But human beings have developed an ironic habit. As they discover that they can neither keep God’s laws nor appreciate the beauty of them, they multiply and amend those laws ad infinitum.

People mistakenly suppose that God’s law is too broad and too vague, so they refine and correct and footnote and clarify. Before long, what started as a fairly digestible code becomes roomfuls of heavy volumes. No citizen can hope to keep up.

Micromanagement of the tax code is a prime example. Efforts at fairness have produced a system so complex that it’s all but impossible for you to submit an IRS return you were sure was accurate.

So, given our human record at trying to correct things by passing all the right laws, there’s little room for optimism. We botch it—every time.

Indeed, if we were really good at that, or even potentially good at it, we wouldn’t need God’s grace. We wouldn’t need the gift and work of a Redeemer like Jesus.

But WORLD Magazine, WORLD Radio, our readers, our listeners, and all the broken culture around us, desperately need that Redeemer. Even if we win a few strategic electoral races, and even if we can point to a few legislative victories on key issues, we’ll never lean on that political process.

We’ll remember instead that “It’s not by might, nor by power, but it’s by my Spirit,” says the Lord.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Joel Belz.


(Photo/Creative Commons)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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