Apologetics,  Christian Living

The Folly of Government Without God

picture of government building

If there was no God, why would you obey the government? In today’s increasingly secularized culture, there are massive efforts to remove God from the public life. But one important argument that needs to be made is that if God is removed from society, the whole foundation for the authority structures within that society crumble.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment (Romans 13:1-2).

Notice that Romans 13 says all subsidiary authorities, namely government and family, are instituted by God (cf. 1 Pet 2:13-17). They are designed by God to be representatives of His ultimate authority and enforce morality which coincides with how God has created the world.

God as the Foundation for Government and All Authority

authority foundation of government

In the Christian worldview, God is the foundation for all authority. Without God there is no basis for determining what is right or wrong, or who is in charge. Christians obey the government because they submit to God’s design in creation. But, why would a non Christian obey the government? Without God in the picture, the answer to that question changes drastically.

Non Christians might argue that government ensures peace and prosperity for the majority of people through functioning like a social contract. For example, in a democratic government, individuals voluntarily give up certain freedoms so that they can be assured of greater stability and benefit overall. Each individual is abiding by certain norms for the benefit of all mutually. However, what this means is that the source of moral authority in a government is collectively determined and has no absolute standard. Furthermore, the only basis for obeying the government in this worldview is simply the practicality of it.

However, in an atheistic worldview there is no reason an individual should not work to his own advantage (survival of the fittest and all that). For example, the government wants me to pay my taxes. Why shouldn’t I cheat on my taxes and report less than I actually made? I mean, I benefit from having more money, thus my personal happiness is increased! Additionally, I benefit from the contributions of others—win-win for me! Why should I register my car at the DMV? Why should I obey traffic laws? Why should I allow my own personal liberty to be intruded upon by the government? If I answer these questions without God in the picture, my answers will be different.

Someone might say, “People are not actually that selfish. Most people are willing to make sacrifices for the benefit of humanity.” However, this circles back to the original problem. They may do that (and I have an answer to why they do), but it is logically inconsistent to make such sacrifices for humanity if there is no God. Selfishness and personal survival are the highest goods in an atheistic universe.

Without God, there is no basis for absolute morality and thus no basis for authority structures. There is only subjective morality. If there was no God, why would we care what anyone else thought? We could easily live life for ourselves and not care about anyone else. Logically, that would be the most fulfilling life we could lead—a life of self-preservation and what is best for us individually.

But, there is a God. He has created the world, and thereby has instilled into creation the validity of absolute morals—the knowledge of right and wrong. Each individual is created in the image of God, and therefore is endowed with a knowledge about God as Creator (Rom 1:18-20). In other words, many people claim there is no God, but they certainly live as if God created the world.

Therefore, because there is absolute morality and a standard by which we must be held accountable; God also has given to us family and government as subsidiary entities which are to hold us accountable to the creation principles which God has given for human flourishing.

In conclusion, whenever someone begins to start putting forward arguments for taking God out of society, I’m reminded of the illogical attempts of the fool. Only the fool says there is no God (Psalm 14:1). For without God, society crumbles and life has no meaning.

photo credit: Utah State Capitol Building via photopin (license)

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He is a husband, father, and sports enthusiast.

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