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God as (not) government

Angelika (my fiancée, aka Presbyterian Girlfriend) and I were talking yesterday about the demanding views people have about God. For example:

  • If God is so great and loving, why doesn't He fix all the poverty and suffering in the world?

  • If God is so understanding, why does He set up all of these difficult rules that humans can't obey?

  • God encourages us to be humble while demanding sacrifice and praise for himself. Who is this crazy egotist?

All of these seem like good questions - if we're thinking of God as an all-knowing all-powerful ruler: a very strong government. These questions assume that God's morality is our morality, that God's reason is our reason.

I used to ask all of these questions when I was on the outside of religion looking in, wondering how it was possible for people to give up their expectations of what was right and just in order to accomodate a powerful God who didn't seem to do much for His followers.

On top of that, a lot of what the Christian right pushes seems to encourage these kinds of questions. Insisting that the Ten Commandments appear everywhere possible that someone might make government decisions does tend to conflate government and religion, for example.

From the inside looking out, none of these questions quite make sense. God isn't a fascist regime or a democracy, a monarchy or an oligarchy. God is God, accessible but not comprehensible. Looking at these questions again, it seems that they might better be asked:

  • Why did God grant humans the privilege of making our own choices with or without help? Is this a good thing or a bad thing? And how can I encourage others to make better choices?

  • How can I learn from God to live a better life?

  • How could someone have a relationship with God and not want to worship?

Those are still difficult questions, but very very different.


Hi, Simon and Angelika!

Yours is an interesting way of approaching some very ancient difficulties in Judæo-Christian theology. I thought about it a long time.

Some thoughts I had:

1) The idea of God as explicitly being government is biblical. Perhaps the most important of the relevant biblical passages is I Samuel 8:6-18, where the act of rejecting the government of God is explicitly portrayed, both as infidelity to God, and as a great mistake.

I don't know that such passages require us to regard God as government. But I would not lightly reject them. As Friends, practicing waiting worship together, our relationship to God is explicitly that of servants waiting on a king. And our practice of being guided by the urgings of God in our hearts and consciences, explicitly presumes that such urgings are comprehensible commands.

2) The second question in your first set is answered by our Quaker doctrine of perfection, which declares that God asks nothing impossible of us. (To say that what God asks of us is impossible is, in George Fox's memorable phrase, "pleading for sin".) And of course, that second question is equally rejected by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount ("therefore ye shall be perfect").

3) The third question in your first set is answered by the example of Jesus, "who, [though] his constant, true identity was that of God, did not regard equality with God as a status he need cling to; but emptied himself, becoming wholly a servant, bearing the semblance of humanity, and being seen [to live] in the pattern of a man. He humbled himself, becoming obedient to [the point of accepting] death — the death of the cross." (Philippians 2:6-8) Here Jesus is seen as a God far humbler than most of us humans ever manage to be, and who, far from demanding sacrifice and praise, accepted a homeless and destitute life and an agonizing, ignoble death in the course of showing us the way out of our own sufferings. The Quaker philosopher Robert Greenleaf described this as "servant leadership".

Marshall - You're quite correct about Samuel, but I think it's also important to think about something I didn't emphasize here: our expectations of government have changed since biblical times.

That plays out differently at different ends of the political spectrum, with their different expectations. Nonetheless, I think what worries me most is the projection of human institutions onto God, followed by strange disappointment when it turns out that God isn't a super-powerful human.

Your answer to point 2 is powerful, but I fear it's an insider's perspective, not something folks on the outside would be likely to find. (Though maybe extreme humanists of a "Pelagian" bent...)

Point 3 is right on, and I think at least explainable to those on the outside, likely speaking to the condition in which they raise these questions. It's a key point differentiating Christianity from other belief systems, as well.

Thanks, as always!

Simon, thank you for your kind response.

I'd be interested in knowing how, in your opinion, our expectations of government have changed since biblical times. It rather seems to me that they're the same expectations as always.

The doctrine of (attainable) perfection, per Matthew 5:48, is taught as an answer to seekers' concerns about meeting God's expectations, not only among Friends, but also, in a different form, among Methodists, other Wesleyans, and Holiness Protestants. And there are many, many millions of Methodists, Wesleyans, and Holiness Protestants.

More broadly, all branches of the Christian faith answer concerns about meeting God's expectations by citing Luke 1:37. A Google search on the three keywords God nothing impossible will illustrate how many different branches of Christianity are making use of this verse.

Sorry for the delay in getting back to you, Marshall. I think the difference in our expectations of government has less to do with what government does - rule, in some form - and more to do with our relationship to it. As participants in a much more democratic government than any of the governments cited in the Bible, we are not just subjects. We expect government to reflect our desires, not just those of the rulers.

I think the impact that has on religious perspectives is better summed up than I can manage by Thomas Merton in Spiritual Direction and Meditation:

One who begs an alms must adopt a different attitude from one who demands what is due to him by his own right. (80)

Is that any clearer?


My name is Russell Hamner; in response to your site I would like to add

I have discovered something that may interest you. It concerns the relationship of religion and government; I have researched this for the last ten years trying to disprove it and I can’t.

I have discovered a new power in the relationship of religion and government. The constitutionalist reserved its power to the people in the tenth amendment. And they rendered government powerless over it in the first amendment.

I discovered that God designed the government and the church to be identical in one way... Power!
· The government acquires power through taxation to address the needs of the nation.
· The Church acquires power through the tithe to address the social needs of a nation.
But… oh yeah, we don’t have a national church to address the social needs of our nation. But thank God, the constitutionalists reserved this power to the people.
Article X. The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

The constitution does not delegate the power of the church to the government, it does not prohibit religion to the states, but there is a separation of church and state, so it is reserved to the people.

Article I. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
Congress is the lawmaker; they would be powerless to make any law for or against establishing a national church. And religion is “love thy brother” (i.e. taking care of their social needs.) That means if the national church started taking care of national social issues, first they could not stop us; second there would be no need for the federal government to take care of social issues, third taxation would be decreased 1.5 trillion dollars, fourth it would reduce government by 50%.
Is it coincidence the constitutionalists directly command the lawmakers to make no law about the establishment of religion? Or did they know we would discover it in Gods time when we really needed it. All my life I have heard “power to the people” and here it is; reserved to the people, and protected from government intrusion by the constitution.

If we can awaken the people to the fact that they could collect the tithe from across the nation from every denomination, they could form a national church. It would be power the people to address all social issues. Which are powers not delegated to the United states by the constitution, nor prohibited to the states by the constitution, but there is a separation of church and state so the power of social issues are constitutionally reserved to the people.

And it is the gospel of Christ.

Matthew 4:23 And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.

Matthew 9:35 And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.

Matthew 24: 14 And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.

Mark 1:14 Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God.

Mark 1: 15. And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.

Man tells us one thing and yet Jesus Christ himself denies them, this is the Gospel of Christ by his own mouth The Kingdom of God.

Matthew 5:20 seek ye first the kingdom of God

He said this is what you pray for:
Matthew 6:10 thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as is in heaven.

In heaven there is God, he is the law and the judge, his throne is represented on earth as the government. There is Christ on the right hand of God he gives life abundantly to the people; his throne is represented on earth as the church. Two bodies of governing power, one for national security, and one for social security which fulfils the covenant of exodus 19, and completes the Gospel of Christ. Religion is the compatible counterpart of the government.
Jesus Christ died on a cross so you could obtain the kingdom of God, on earth, “as” is in heaven.
Luke 18:29-30 Verily I say unto you there is no man who has left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife or children for the kingdom of Gods sake. Who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting.

It is the beginning and the end of the matter:

Revelation 10:7 But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets.
Revelation 11:15 And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of (1) our Lord, and (2) of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.

God created two kinds of people and established a national power for each.

· One wants tradition and national defense (conservative) his likeness is after God he would naturally have the lawful power.
· And one wants expanding horizons and social equality (Liberal) his likeness is after Christ he would naturally have social power.

This is how god organized the powers and principalities in heaven, and on earth.
God has invited us in the covenant of Exodus, Jesus has invited us in the Gospel, and the constitutionalist have reserved the invitation for us, and protected us from the corruption of congress within our constitution.

It is our National Christian heritage, come; let us walk through this door of peace together!

From the beginning Exodus 19:24 after saving us from oppression, God appoints Moses as the Governor of Law, and Aaron as the governor of the Church, the Government grew, and the church did not, so God sent Jesus with the Gospel of the kingdom of God now we must fulfill the covenant by doing the Gospel.

Luke 18:17 Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God, as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.


Awake the third testament “to the mystery of the kingdom of heaven”
Author: Russell Hamner