Paul and I spent most of Inauguration Day, Friday, January 20, following the events via our online connection which we cast to our “big” screen (a 37 inch flat screen that is not hooked up to use as a TV). Watching “the peaceful transfer of power,” our patriotic spirits were exercised, and we almost felt as if we were there. Almost! Happily, I was curled up in my roomy, warm, upholstered chair. The hubbub, the music, the crowds, the motorcades, the who’s who entrances — all blended to evoke a spirit of belonging — similar to (for me in my simpleness) going to a county fair, but on a huge and impactful scale. This is more than the satisfaction of belonging to a local community or club; on this day, we gratefully sensed our belonging to our country, the United States of America. ( Much of the week end’s madness had not yet happened. I choose not to smudge Friday’s memories with it.)
As I ruminated over the day’s events and words, I asked myself, “And just what is government?” The teens in my Sunday school class and I had discussed this a few weeks before when we were reviewing a period in ancient Israel’s past, the era of the judges, which preceded the kingdom era of King Saul, King David, and King Solomon. In the era of the judges, everyone did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 17:6). I asked my teens, “What is government?” Their only association of the word is with politics — some form of civil government and economic system such as democracy or communism. Hmm. There is something important beneath these ideas, something preceding them.
Often, we have heard in political discourse, “We the people” need to do something, such as “take back our country” or “hold our representatives accountable”. “We the people.” The reference, of course, is to the opening phrase in the preamble to our constitution. Another often quoted phrase about the American people is from Lincoln’s Gettysburg address: “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
In his inaugural address we heard President Trump state that “today we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another, or from one party to another — but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People.” Trump was getting to the heart of what government is — the wielding of power. He was saying that “the people” had lost power which he wanted to return to them. He continued, “For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost.”
I do not know how he thinks he can return power to the people when there are such divergent, irreconcilable groups of “we the people”. He is largely speaking of the “forgotten man – forgotten woman”, “we the people” group. The point is that he wants to enfranchise with political power a large population that has had little. While to some degree, our president can wield political power and share political power, there is a government that he cannot control, over which no political leader can rule. This is the most basic form of government which so often gets ignored in our presumption that government is an activity of politics.
To my point. We begin by defining the term. One of the most interesting places to go to find definitions is the original Noah Webster’s dictionary. I have a large, green edition of it, but you can access this dictionary online. Just google http://webstersdictionary1828.com/Dictionary , and then type in the word you want. Save the site in your favorites for future, quick reference. (Another favorite is the Oxford English Dictionary which you can also access online.)
Noah Webster invested over twenty five years in researching, writing, and organizing this dictionary, America’s first dictionary. (The history of dictionaries is fascinating.) Today’s commonly used Merriam-Webster’s contains important updates but also has deleted much of the amazing biblical broth in which his original recipe was simmered. This first edition, entitled American Dictionary of the English Language, provides eleven definitions for government. The first four are as follows. (You will note he first gives a concise definition and then uses the word in a sample sentence.)
“GOVERNMENT, noun Direction; regulation. These precepts will serve for the government of our conduct.
1. Control; restraint. Men are apt to neglect the government of their temper and passions.
2. The exercise of authority; direction and restraint exercised over the actions of men in communities, societies or states; the administration of public affairs, according to established constitution, laws and usages, or by arbitrary edicts. Prussia rose to importance under the government of Frederick II.
3. The exercise of authority by a parent or householder. Children are often ruined by a neglect of government in parents.
Let family government be like that of our heavenly Father, mild, gentle and affectionate.
4. The system of polity in a state; that form of fundamental rules and principles by which a nation or state is governed, or by which individual members of a body politic are to regulate their social actions; a constitution, either written or unwritten, by which the rights and duties of citizens and public officers are prescribed and defined; as a monarchial government or a republican government.
Thirteen governments thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without the pretense of miracle or mystery, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind.”
You will note that the first form of government relates to personal government which may be called self-government: the government of our conduct, self-control, and self-direction. The third relates to family units. The second and fourth (as well as fifth- seventh) deal with civil government. (Webster has thirteen definitions for civil.)
The shapers and founders of our civil government or “system of polity” believed that the effectiveness of a constitutional republic such as they gave us would require an educated and moral people — knowledgeable in their own heritage and of such a character that less external government would be necessary. (You can find many quotations from our founders to this effect.)
This takes me to another interesting set of resources. The Principle Approach explains self-government from a biblical worldview.* This philosophy teaches:
“I am only properly self-governed when governed by Christ.”
This is government quite the opposite of that seen in the chaotic era of the judges of Israel when everyone did what was right in his own eyes. Immediately, I think of Galatians 5:22-23 which lists the fruit of the Spirit, among which is self-control, and concludes that no outer law is needed when these characteristics comprise the human character. You could collect a string of passages clarifying self-government. In other words, it is walking in the Spirit, obeying Christ, putting off the old person and putting on the new, living as a new creation in Christ.
This self-government makes Christians good citizens. Civil and citizen are from the same root. As followers of Christ, we hold duel citizenships. We are citizens of Christ’s kingdom and of our earthly country (Phil 3:20; Matt. 6: 33).
when President Trump claims he wants to return power to the people, we can smile like Mona Lisa (that mysterious, faint smile that causes others to say, “What’s she really thinking?”). We know he’s talking about returning political power to the states and local governments and about the federal government obeying the laws its representatives make. It is good if some of this can happen. However, “we the people” always had the majority of the power — the power of our personal choices in thought, attitudes, responses, and actions. It’s power that we can only manage through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is self-government.
Interestingly, Dr. Larry P. Arnn, president of Hillsdale College, touts in describing the college that “Hillsdale offers an education designed to equip human beings for self-government.” I found this statement on the college website which goes on to state (without attribution) that “Freedom can only last if you and I choose to act as people of character”. This echoes the perspective of our founding fathers.
Governments form concentric circles increasing in size: my heart, my life, our family, our community, our state, our country, the universal, eternal Kingdom that is coming.
“And the government shall be upon His shoulders” (Isaiah 9:6).
I pray: “His Kingdom come, His will be done — in my life, family, and nation — as it is in Heaven.”
*www.face.net. Look up The Principle Approach. This is an interesting site to peruse. Much of the material in the Principle Approach books is presented at this site.
It was a Great Day, Karen and Paul!….. 👍🙏🌹😃