Government as Judgment
GOVERNMENT AS JUDGMENT
A Biblical Theory of Government
William AndrewsWriting this review in the context of the furore over Brexit and the prorogation of Parliament, this booklet provides a timely reminder that the role of government can be understood against a biblical foundation. Quoting from Oliver OíDonovanís The Ways of Judgment (published in 2005) the author begins by telling us that Ďthe authority of secular government resides in the practice of judgment.í (p.3). It is argued that the best description of the role of government is judgment in the sense of distinguishing between right and wrong as the means to bring about change within the public realm. An example of this would be that the government might judge that it is necessary to improve access to healthcare, and that therefore certain changes would be needed to the way the state provides healthcare, including additional taxation. A further judgment would then be needed to decide where the burden of this taxation should fall.
The concept of judgment in this context can be seen to reflect Godís judgment as depicted in Scripture, one example being the flood (Gen. 6: 5-7). However, more to the point is the final judgment which will be the ultimate expression of Godís view on the good and evil of history. In the interim, as the Apostle Paul notes in Romans 13: 1-4, this judgment is delegated to human political authorities, and it is those authorities, according to Paul, who mediate Godís judgment. Referring to Jesusí comments in Mark 12: 16-17 about rendering to Caesar the things of Caesar and to God the things of God, the author argues that this should not be understood to mean that there are two opposing realms, the sacred and the secular, since Jesus and his listeners would have understood that as Creator, God is the ultimate authority and judge of all.
In this interesting booklet the author discusses the issues surrounding political authority and legitimacy, and the extreme case of judgment when it is judged that war is the only pragmatic option. In general, the motivation to act must reside in a judgment that there is a wrong to be put right Ė a government should not be acting out of a desire to promote its own view of what society should be like. How all this works out in practice is discussed in the final chapter where the main concept is that society is prior to the state, whereas many political philosophies assume that the state is prior to society. This results in the mistaken view of governments that they can transform society and bring about what can be achieved by God alone. In our present context where there is a concentration on individuals rather than policies, with ad hominem arguments rather than informed debate, the ideas in this booklet may seem a bit abstract and removed from reality. However it would be instructive to put questions arising from the text to potential candidates, either on the doorstep or at hustings, and see what level of thought about the role of government is shared by those who would govern us.
Reviewed by Marion Gray