I recently read the book Bonhoeffer, the life story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas, who brilliantly describes the political, cultural, and church climate that lead to the rise of Hitler in Germany. I read it with a good amount of concern because all the while, I couldn’t help but feeling like he was really writing about 2012 America. The then-and-now parallels of the decline of independence of the church and the people, submitting themselves to the ever growing power of their “savior” government are startling.
But that wasn’t the first time I had seen that story. A look at 1 Samuel shows us one of the many times that God’s own people desired to hand themselves over to the reign of man instead of the reign of God at the cost of their freedom and liberty. But most importantly, at the cost of fulfilling the potential that a people could be with the King of all creation at as their head:
So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah….But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king…. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”
Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots…. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”
When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the Lord. The Lord answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.” – 1 Samuel 8:4-22
How do we compare?
I may be a fiscal conservative, but I am not entirely anti-welfare. Even the most conservative people I know understand that there is a time and a place for the system to step in and lend a hand-up to our fellow man in need. My own family has benefited from the system for both the cost of my pregnancies and births of our children, and financial assistance when our business closed its doors in the 2008 housing crash. And while I am grateful that a resource like that was available when we needed it, spending some time on the system gave me first-hand experience with its entrapment design and the dependency it creates. Is welfare itself evil? No, but its potential to take the place of the church as the hands and feet of Christ to provide for those in need and to be the source of provision that God’s people look to is certainly evil.
St. Augustine said, “Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.” But the truth of this statement could depend on how you define “Justice.” Does it mean that someone is entitled to benefits because they don’t want to put in the hard work necessary to change their circumstances? Does it mean that those who have found success in life should surrender everything over to a corrupt and wasteful government who should decide what is in the best interest of the people?
In the New Testament Church’s standard of care for the poor we see faith-driven voluntary charity with no lack of justice:
“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.” – Acts 4:32 – 35
Great examples of this are organizations like Samaritan Ministries, which help to take away dependence from government and health insurance companies and put the power back into the church to bear one another’s burdens by household-to-household cost sharing for health care.
But my coutnrymen today, like 1920’s Germany, and the people is Israel thousands of years ago are crying out to their government to step in and save them.
“Government, provide for us!”
“Government, give us free birth control!” (That’s a whole nother blog)
“Government, legislate morality!”
“Government, protect us from ourselves!”
“Government, fight our battles for us!”
With what we lost in government benefits and what we pay for in childcare, I really only added about $2 per hour to our household budget by going back to work, and I also miss being home with my daughter in her last year before starting kindergarten. But I do it because God provided for our family by providing me with a place to earn a paycheck, and because no one forced me to get married at 17 and then have kids before either of us had a college education, and I could no longer see how it was anyone else’s responsibility to pay for those life choices. I believe that entitlements are the new slavery. And unlike the last kind of slavery we faced as a nation, these chains are no respecter of race, age, or gender. But to be a slave to Christ alone is freedom. To be dependent on the King of kings alone is strength.
“Give us a king!”
Are we asking for Christ, or for man?
Like this post? Check out Of Noble Character – A New Kind of Feminism