In most civil societies the government makes laws to ensure the general safety of its citizens and to protect their rights. Many of these laws are rooted in a perception of right versus wrong, good versus evil or moral versus immoral. Usually things like murder, sexual assault, kidnapping, arson and robbery are illegal. Almost all of us rely on some standard to judge which behaviors should be against the law. Even with the best intentions we do not always agree on the most effective ways to protect our citizens. Take, for example, our care for children. We have child labor laws and limit the ages at which one can drop out of school, obtain a driver’s license and get married. Various cultures define “childhood” differently so our ideas about protecting children differ. What was allowed in the United States 150 years ago in regards to children working would be considered abuse today. Activities that are currently expected of children in some countries would not be tolerated by most Americans.
Although we do not agree on all of our legislation many of us contend that in the United States we have enjoyed a great number of liberties not offered in a variety of other countries. We are grateful for the sacrifices made by women and men of the armed services to protect our nation and to secure our freedoms. As tempting as it may be, however, we should not put our trust in any form of government, political party or politician to solve all or even most of our problems. Organizations and individuals are imperfect and will never meet our deepest needs.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “No visible divine state will be established in this world, not even if there were international understanding everywhere. Everything that the church does here is temporary and designed only to hold together the collapsing systems of the world and keep them from falling into chaos. This activity of the church is indispensable.” For the Christian, instead of this being a depressing view, it is a realistic picture of what it means to be a pilgrim on earth. We certainly have a responsibility to vote and to participate in improving society but must not rely on human institutions for the hope that only God can give. As Paul wrote “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone. (Titus 3:1-2)