For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest upon His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace… (Isa.9:6-7).
Families were our first institution, but they have had serious and dramatic problems since Cain killed his younger brother Abel. What does this tell us?
The family alone is not sufficient for society, and cannot be the only institution of society. It must have recourse to other institutions such as the church and state for its health and safety. The church is there to serve the individuals and families that are part of it, and it has a broader responsibility to society and the state, to teach, encourage and warn.
So the family and the church are essential, but there is still a greater need that needs to be fulfilled in any society, that of a bringer of justice in society.
The State is to be a bearer and keeper of the law. God’s plan is that it be “… a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil” (Ro.13:4).
When Rebekah and Isaac knew that Esau harboured murderous intent towards his twin brother Jacob, they sent him away (see Gen.27:41-28:5). Why?
His sudden exit was the only avenue open to them to partially solve their problem. They did not have a church or a State outside of their family to appeal to, to intervene. Jacob had to get out of danger, quickly.
When Joseph and Mary knew that Herod wanted to kill Jesus, they had no institutional recourse. God told them to flee to Egypt (see Mat.2:13-23), for there was no protection within Herod’s jurisdiction.
We see in these two instances that a predator upon a family (from within or without) can expose the family to grave danger. The family ignores that danger, to their peril. Isaac and Rebekah acted quickly as the responsible parents, as did Joseph and Mary (at God’s prompting) to protect the baby Jesus.
Some 30-40 years later, Jacob had another nasty experience of what can happen when family members go beyond their God-appointed sphere. After the rape of his daughter Dinah, her brothers Simeon and Levi took their own vengeance on the perpetrator Shechem, his father Hamor, and their city, killing and looting there, “…because they had defiled their sister” (Gen.34:27). Not so dissimilarly to their uncle Esau, they sought to take the law into their own hands.
Jacob was not impressed.
You have brought trouble on me by making me odious among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites; and my men being few in number, they will gather together against me and attack me and I will be destroyed, I and my household (Gen.34:30).
So we see that for the healthy life of a community to be maintained, the various levels of government must be present, but the presence of an institution is by no means sufficient. Those institutions must function responsibly according to God’s plan for them. Institutional awareness of God’s limitations is critical for the health of a society. When this isn’t present, there are inevitable and painful consequences.
Do families know their limits today? Does the church? Does the State?
Mosaic civil law did not compel anyone to offer positive sanctions. Rather, it imposed negative sanctions for evil acts. It should be the ideal for every system of civil law to remove all positive sanctions by the State and impose only those negative sanctions authorized by Biblical law. The State is to impose negative sanctions only: punishing public evil. It is not a wealth-creator; it is a wealth-redistributer. It is not safe to entrust to the State the power of making one man rich at the expense of another. It is also not moral.
It is essential that the family, the church and the State function properly, for the healthy functioning of every society. When these social institutions rest contentedly within their God-appointed spheres, there is likely to be a greater measure of social harmony.
But if either of these institutions refuse to acknowledge their God-appointed sphere, abusing (or neglecting) their responsibility and power, this creates enormous tensions and strains within any community. The Bible warns us that “like a roaring lion and a rushing bear is a wicked ruler over a poor people” (Prov.28:15), and “when the wicked rise, men hide themselves…” (Prov.28:28).
The solution? “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Mat.6:33).