The Government of God
Democracy, Dictatorship, or Republic?
Part 2 - The Law
Eric Liddel was born to evangelical missionary parents in China. He became a fast runner and England’s hope for the gold medal in the 100 meter race at the 1924 Olympic Games. But when he found out that the heats for this race where to be held on a Sunday, he refused to run, because he believed it was the Lord’s day. He entered the 400 meter race instead and won the gold, in spite of the fact that he had never trained for the 400 meter. After the Olympics he returned as a missionary to China and died in a Japanese internment camp during World War II.
The movie “Chariots of Fire” tells the story of the English Olympic team of 1924. Eric Liddel is depicted as a sincere, Bible believing, Evangelical Christian, as he was. But in one scene of the movie Eric’s father tells Eric, “God is a dictator, son, He doesn’t ask you what you think.” This concept of God as Sovereign Dictator of the universe, reigning over all with absolute and arbitrary authority, pervades Evangelical Christianity today. But does the evidence of inspiration support this concept of God’s dictatorial theocracy?
We saw in part 1 that there are basically two forms of government, the dictatorship and the republic. The basic difference between these two forms of government are the rule of law versus the rule of arbitrary authority, be that authority a single individual, a party, or the majority of the population. In a republic the people have rights that are inalienable, they cannot be removed, without specific, legal and just cause.
The first thing to consider in establishing which form of government the administration of heaven takes is the question of what is supreme in heaven’s government? Is God supreme or is the law supreme? On what is the authority of His government built? Is it built on the law or is it built on His power?
We find a clue to this from Jesus’ own words, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” Matthew 5:17.
We find another clue in the sanctuary service which was “the patterns of things in the heavens,” Hebrews 9:23. Notice what was in the most holy place. The object toward which the people worshiped and the thing most sacred to all the sanctuary services was the law, written on tables of stone and housed in the golden ark. Every service in the sanctuary and worship of the Jewish dispensation dealt with remedying the fact that man had broken the law.
None of the pagan worship forms held the law as the basis of their worship. In pagan temples and ceremonies it was about an idol that represented an all powerful and divine being whom the people were trying to appease with their sacrifices and offerings. The basic difference in the worship of God versus the worship of the pagan deities was the supremacy of the law. God’s worship dealt with an atonement for a broken law while the pagan worship was all about appeasing an offended dictator.
Here we see clearly the exact same contrast between the religion of Israel and the religion of the pagan world, as we see between the genuine republic and the dictatorship. In both the religion of Israel and a true republic, the law is above all. In all other forms of religion and government, authority and worship are based on arbitrary power.
Why would the law take such a prominent place in the Jewish service as to be the object housed in the Ark of the covenant? The reason for this is that the law is the foundation of God’s government. This is why it is placed within the throne of God, of which the earthly ark was a representation.
“The moral law was never a type or a shadow. It existed before man’s creation, and will endure as long as God’s throne remains. God could not change nor alter one precept of his law in order to save man; for the law is the foundation of his government. It is unchangeable, unalterable, infinite, and eternal. In order for man to be saved, and for the honor of the law to be maintained, it was necessary for the Son of God to offer himself as a sacrifice for sin. He who knew no sin became sin for us. He died for us on Calvary. His death shows the wonderful love of God for man, and the immutability of his law.” Review and Herald, April 22, 1902.
The law itself is a transcript of God’s character.
“Be perfect as God is perfect. The law is but a transcript of the character of God. Behold in your heavenly Father a perfect manifestation of the principles which are the foundation of His government.” Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, page 77.
“The law of God is an expression of His very nature; it is an embodiment of the great principle of love, and hence is the foundation of His government in heaven and earth.” Steps to Christ, page 60.
When God commands His created beings to keep the law, He is commanding them to become like Himself. If the law is a transcript of God’s character then He Himself must keep it perfectly.
“God cannot lie.” Spirit of Prophecy Vol. 4, page 319.
If God cannot lie, wouldn’t it follow that He cannot break any one of the ten commandments?
“God is omnipotent, omniscient, immutable. He always pursues a straightforward course. His law is truth—unchanging, eternal truth. His precepts are consistent with His attributes. But Satan makes them appear in a false light. By perverting them he seeks to give human beings an unfavorable impression of God. Throughout his rebellion he has sought to represent God as an unjust, tyrannical being.” Christ Triumphant, page 291.
“How wise was the arrangement of God to preserve a knowledge of himself in the earth by giving man his holy law, which was the foundation of his government in heaven and in earth, and by connecting with it a system of worship that would be a continual reminder of a coming Saviour. While darkness covered the earth, and gross darkness the people, the Lord had a humble few who acknowledged his sovereignty by respecting and obeying the constitution of his kingdom, the ten commandments. Through the ages of idolatry and apostasy, the promise of a Messiah kept the star of hope shining in the darkened moral heavens until the time came for Christ to make his first advent.” Review and Herald, March 2, 1886.
God’s government is constitutional in form, meaning that the law is supreme and must be kept by all. In other words, God’s government is a genuine republic. Even God Himself is subject to the law. But how can that be? Think about it a little bit. The highest possible evidence that the supreme ruler of the universe is subject to His own constitution is the fact that Christ had to die for man’s transgression. He made Himself subject to the penalty of that broken law, for man. If God was supreme and above His law then He could have changed it to save man but this was impossible for Him to do.
“But it was not merely to accomplish the redemption of man that Christ came to the earth to suffer and to die. He came to ‘magnify the law’ and to ‘make it honorable.’ Not alone that the inhabitants of this world might regard the law as it should be regarded; but it was to demonstrate to all the worlds of the universe that God’s law is unchangeable. Could its claims have been set aside, then the Son of God need not have yielded up his life to atone for its transgression. The death of Christ proves it immutable. And the sacrifice to which infinite love impelled the Father and the Son, that sinners might be redeemed, demonstrates to all the univers – what nothing less than this plan of atonement could have sufficed to do – that justice and mercy are the foundation of the law and government of God.” Great Controversy 1888 edition, page 503.
God cannot change His law because the law is supreme and above all.
“Many religious teachers assert that Christ by His death abolished the law, and men are henceforth free from its requirements. There are some who represent it as a grievous yoke, and in contrast to the bondage of the law they present the liberty to be enjoyed under the gospel.” Great Controversy page 466.
“But not so did prophets and apostles regard the holy law of God. Said David: ‘I will walk at liberty: for I seek Thy precepts.’ Psalm 119:45. The apostle James, who wrote after the death of Christ, refers to the Decalogue as ‘the royal law’ and ‘the perfect law of liberty.’ James 2:8; 1:25. And the revelator, half a century after the crucifixion, pronounces a blessing upon them ‘that do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.’ Revelation 22:14.” Great Controversy page 466.
“The claim that Christ by His death abolished His Father’s law is without foundation. Had it been possible for the law to be changed or set aside, then Christ need not have died to save man from the penalty of sin. The death of Christ, so far from abolishing the law, proves that it is immutable. The Son of God came to ‘magnify the law, and make it honorable.’ Isaiah 42:21. He said: ‘Think not that I am come to destroy the law;’ ‘till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law.’ Matthew 5:17, 18. And concerning Himself He declares: ‘I delight to do Thy will, O my God: yea, Thy law is within My heart.’ Psalm 40:8.” Great Controversy page 466.
“The law of God, from its very nature, is unchangeable. It is a revelation of the will and the character of its Author. God is love, and His law is love. Its two great principles are love to God and love to man. ‘Love is the fulfilling of the law.’ Romans 13:10. The character of God is righteousness and truth; such is the nature of His law. Says the psalmist: ‘Thy law is the truth:’ ‘all Thy commandments are righteousness.’ Psalm 119:142, 172. And the apostle Paul declares: ‘The law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.’ Romans 7:12. Such a law, being an expression of the mind and will of God, must be as enduring as its Author.” Great Controversy page 466.
“Sanctification is obtained only in obedience to the will of God. Many who are willfully trampling upon the law of Jehovah claim holiness of heart and sanctification of life. But they have not a saving knowledge of God or of His law. They are standing in the ranks of the great rebel. He is at war with the law of God, which is the foundation of the divine government in heaven and in the earth. These men are doing the same work as their master has done in seeking to make of none effect God’s holy law. No commandment-breaker can be permitted to enter heaven; for he who was once a pure and exalted covering cherub was thrust out for rebelling against the government of God.” Faith and Works, page 29.
“God had provided for His people a sanctuary of awful grandeur, befitting the mighty truths committed to their trust. To those faithful exiles the mountains were an emblem of the immutable righteousness of Jehovah. They pointed their children to the heights towering above them in unchanging majesty, and spoke to them of Him with whom there is no variableness nor shadow of turning, whose word is as enduring as the everlasting hills. God had set fast the mountains and girded them with strength; no arm but that of Infinite Power could move them out of their place. In like manner He had established His law, the foundation of His government in heaven and upon earth. The arm of man might reach his fellow men and destroy their lives; but that arm could as readily uproot the mountains from their foundations, and hurl them into the sea, as it could change one precept of the law of Jehovah, or blot out one of His promises to those who do His will. In their fidelity to His law, God’s servants should be as firm as the unchanging hills.” Great Controversy page 66.
When we think of a constitution we think of a document that guarantees the rights of the citizens. Under the constitution of the United States we have the right to self governance through representatives, the right of free speech, the right to worship God according to our conscience, the right to bear arms, the right to trial by jury, and so forth. In the Declaration of Independence the inalienable rights of man are listed as being the rights to life, liberty, and property (Jefferson’s original draft was later changed by congress to read “pursuit of happiness” instead of property).
But when we think of the ten commandments we think of a list of do’s and dont’s. How can this be the constitution of a government? But wait a minute, let’s stop and look at this document for a minute.
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Exodus 20:3.
“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.” Exodus 20:4-6.
“Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” Exodus 20:7.
“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” Exodus 20:8-11.
“Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.” Exodus 20:12.
“Thou shalt not kill.” Exodus 20:13.
“Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Exodus 20:14.
“Thou shalt not steal.” Exodus 20:15.
“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.” Exodus 20:16.
“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.” Exodus 20:17.
Jesus summed this law up as “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Matthew 22:37-40.
But does this law convey rights to the citizens of God’s government? Yes, it does. When you look at the ten commandments, they easily split into two groups. The first four are man’s duty to God, the last six are man’s duty to his fellow man. The first four are really setting forth the rights of God and the last six are setting forth the rights of His created beings.
The rights that belong to God are the right to the worship, love, and reverence of His creatures. Why does God have the right to be worshiped? Because He is the Creator. No other being in the universe has this right to be worshiped.
“As regards our responsibility and influence, we are amenable to God as deriving our life from Him. This we do not obtain from humanity, but from God only. We are His by creation and by redemption. Our very bodies are not our own, to treat as we please, to cripple by habits that lead to decay, making it impossible to render to God perfect service. Our lives and all our faculties belong to Him. He is caring for us every moment; He keeps the living machinery in action; if we were left to run it for one moment, we should die. We are absolutely dependent upon God.” Counsels on Diet and Foods, page 56.
God has the right to be God. He has this right because He is the creator, He owns all of creation. He alone has the right to be worshiped. His rights as Creator and Sovereign of the universe are protected under the first four commandments.
What rights are given to His creatures? Created beings are given the right to property. “Thou shalt not steal, and “thou shalt not covet,” both guarantee the right to property. We are promised that the redeemed “shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them. They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat:” Isaiah 65:21-22. This is clearly the right to property, one of the principles of the divine kingdom.
“Thou shalt not kill,” grants the right to life. Along with this is the right to honor and respect, in the commandment “Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother.” We can also add to this the right to the fidelity of our spouse in the seventh commandment.
We find the right to truth in the command “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” We also find the right to liberty in the command not to covet. This is because individual liberty is always restricted by those who covet power and the possessions of others.
“They need to understand that these inestimable blessings are to be enjoyed only in obedience to the law of God. This law is the preserver of true freedom and liberty. It points out and prohibits those things that degrade and enslave, and thus to the obedient it affords protection from the power of evil. The psalmist says: ‘I will walk at liberty: for I seek Thy precepts.’ ‘Thy testimonies also are my delight and my counselors.’ Psalm 119:45, 24.” Education, page 291.
We see plainly that the last six commandments guarantee to all created intelligences the rights of life, liberty, and property, that men everywhere hold dear.
“There are rights which belong to every individual. We have an individuality and an identity that is our own. No one can submerge his identity in that of any other. All must act for themselves, according to the dictates of their own conscience.” Counsels on Diet and Foods, page 56.
These commandments give to man a dignity, honor and respect that far surpasses anything man could have devised. God promises that, “I will make a man more precious than fine gold; even a man than the golden wedge of Ophir.” Isaiah 13:12.
Clearly the government of God is constitutional in form. It fits the first aspect of a true republic, as the founders of the United States understood it. In God’s government law is supreme above all and both God and His created beings are guaranteed rights under that law. In fact, the entire focus of redemption and salvation has been to remedy that broken law.
But is God’s government a constitutional monarchy? To truly be a republic, it must also be governed by a council of representatives. Do we find this council in the government of heaven? Or is God a type of dictator, dictating to His created beings what they shall do and think, albeit, within the restrictions of His law? We will consider these questions in part 3.