God created each individual with a moral gyroscope that says justice requires equality. By way of illustration, your wife gives your two children freshly baked cookies, but to one she gives ten and to the other she gives but two. The one with two says, “That’s not fair!” “Fairness” requires that each child receive the same number of cookies.
God also created the world unjust as well as unequal 1. Some are gifted, while others are dull. Some are born into wealth, and others are born into poverty. Some are handicapped in various ways, while others are not. Some live long, prosperous, disease-free lives, while many others live the opposite. Unexpectedly, thousands are killed by an earthquake, tsunami, or volcano. For the most part, these acts are Providential rather than created by the folly of man.
This phenomenon has vexed man from the beginning of time. In Plato’s The Republic, written about 380 BC, Socrates explored how to create a just society – a utopia. He argued that it requires identifying and training specially gifted men that become the “philosopher kings,” who are not only altruistic 2 but are able to instill an altruistic world view in the lives of those they rule. “It is Plato’s best-known work and has proven to be one of the most intellectually and historically influential works of philosophy and political theory.” 3
Manifestations of this philosophy have appeared on the political stage under names such as communism and socialism. They have in common the need to teach people to sacrifice themselves for the common good. A former U.S. President said, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” In more recent times politicians tell us, “It takes a village to raise a child,” i.e., “Allow us to train your children and we will instill in them an altruistic worldview. They will selflessly give themselves for the well being of others rather than seek to selfishly accrue gain for themselves.”
Church history also shows repeated attempts to create the perfect society. Ostensibly, when God created the Theocracy of Israel, He endeavored to do this. In 1629, with the Charter of Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Puritans sought to bring into existence a theocratic state, for they considered the “new world” a pristine environment in which Christians could start over. A superficial look at Massachusetts today reveals that it did not work. Currently the church is engaged in a myriad of tasks with the goal of correcting the terrible way that God made the world. They argue, “Through social justice, correcting the ills of society, etc., we will make the world into the kind of place it should be.” No church, of course, says that the ministry is correcting the way God left the world, but in essence that is the mission.
Without exception all such political and religious endeavors have failed, usually paying a horrific price in the process. All systems of government tend to be abusive, but when people are taught to work as hard for the common good as they do for themselves, expectations are created that are not only unrealistic but also counter-productive. The millions of people that have been sacrificed in an endeavor to produce utopia is a stain on the history of the world.
Not only do the masses suffer incredible hurt, the rulers become corrupt and self-serving. It seems that as nations move in the direction of dividing the common good with the common man, those in positions of leadership abuse the system through corruption and graft. Their philosophy appears to be reflected in the words, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” 4 Evidently, Socrates’ objective in training the “philosopher kings” to be altruistic does not work.
Caring people try to fix what God alone can, looking outward rather than inward. In the next Co-Laborer letter we will explore the reason why altruism will not work, and why man cannot create utopia.
In the previous issue we noted that God created a world in which nothing is equal and just, while creating the individual with a moral gyroscope that says justice requires equality. God also imbedded in each person hope. Hope is a desire for future gain. For example, if I ask, “Do you think you will die of cancer,” you probably would respond, “I hope not.” From this we learn at least two things: first, hope is the absence of certainty; and second, you hope in the direction of what you perceive is gain.
This desire for gain is the antithesis of altruism, for altruism teaches that people should do what is proper without the anticipation of gain. In other words, to create utopia we have to teach people to put to death a key ingredient that makes a person human.
The utopian visions of socialists, whether they be atheists or Christians, are the same; it is a vision of the united human race, a perfect order of equity, everything in complete harmony. The vision of socialism is magnificent, but divorced from an eternal hope it becomes one of the most fanatical forms of despotic tyranny. Hope in the goodness of man is a false hope. As the 20th century Russian political joke goes, “So long as the bosses pretend to pay us, we will pretend to work.” It may look like a lamb, but when developed it becomes a lion. For example, a man works hard, accumulates wealth, and the government confiscates it through taxes. He responds by refusing to report all his earnings and in the process becomes a felon. The “benevolent” government, which it is assumed can create unity and equality for the common good, thus breeds corruption and destroys motivation as it redistributes wealth.
For the follower of Christ, hope is an essential ingredient in his walk with God. “For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.” 5 Because of the propitious death of Christ, we hope that when we die we will spend an eternity with Him.
The Bible encourages people to have a temporal hope, for without one a person cannot live a sacrificial life. However, the temporal hope must be subservient to an eternal hope and subject to biblical commands. Without an eternal hope rooted in Christ, a man either loses hope and lives in despair or gives his energies to a temporal hope. If the state creates a system that requires him to be altruistic, he will end corrupting himself as he breaks the law or abuses his power.
That there is no moral world order, but merely an order of nature to which both man and beast are subject, is seen in injustice and unrighteousness. How do the followers of Christ know that there is such a thing as justice? The thoughtful mind is often confused by the apparent inequalities in the world God created. These inequalities are mirrored in the best of governments. Someone once said, “The guardian of the innocent often becomes the hangman of the innocent.”
Unchecked capitalism likewise breeds abuse. History is replete with illustrations of the strong abusing the weak. In history we frequently find when a man realizes his ambition that he turns it into diabolical perversity. Samuel rebuked injustice in Eli and found it in his own home (1 Samuel 3:10-18; 8:1-3). The Bible teaches when man looks for justice from others that he is a fool. The man of God never wastes his time looking for justice. If I look for justice in others, I will be disappointed and cynical. The biblical mandate is to see that no one suffers from my injustice. Jesus said in John 15:11: “My joy is to do the will of Him that sent Me.” His joy was not found in justice, but in doing the will of the Father.
These thoughts are not meant to promote one system of government over another or one political party over another, but rather to call attention to the depravity of man and God’s creating a system which proves that man cannot govern himself. It is a severe test, possibly the most severe test, God brings into people’s lives. He constructed life this way to draw man to Himself. The path to God is dependence; the path from God is independence.
If we could learn to govern our own affairs, it would damn us to hell, for we would perceive that our autonomy had been accomplished and would see no need for God. Thus, this severe test is an expression of God’s grace.
Awed by the inscrutability of His ways,
1 The world is “A twisted thing that cannot be made straight, A lack that cannot be made good” (Ecclesiastes 1:15)
2 Altruism: “The belief in or practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others.”
4 George Orwell, Animal Farm
5 Romans 8:24-25, KJV