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Why God has His doubts about the State

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Apr 28, 2015

Remember when the Israelites asked the judge Samuel to appoint a king over them? (You’ll find it in 1 Samuel 9 - 12.) They needed protection against the Philistines, Samuel had grown old, and his sons, whom Samuel had also appointed as judges, “did not walk in his ways” (8:3).

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It had been God’s pattern for many years to permit Israel to suffer at the hands of neighboring tribes during periods of infidelity, and then to raise up a judge to guide and protect them when they repented. As we can well imagine, Samuel was not pleased by the request of the people for a king. Nonetheless, God quickly disposed of Samuel’s personal grievance: “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them” (8:7).

So God told Samuel to “solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them” (8:9). We ought to attend to this warning, for it describes what amounts to the difference between a free people and a modern state:

These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your menservants and maidservants, and the best of your cattle and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. [8:11-17]

Now God was clearly annoyed by Israel’s desire for political power. He preferred that they would simply live in a manner worthy of His ongoing special care. But His response to Israel is instructive. He permits Israel to have a king, and he tells the people that all can still go well: “If you will fear the Lord and serve him and listen to his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God, it will be well” (12:14).

But otherwise not. See the very next verse.

So where does this leave us? There is no evidence that God desired to directly guide the political affairs of any nation other than Israel under the Old Covenant. But the evidence is undeniable that He expects all peoples and all governments to listen to His voice and keep His commandments. Thus the troubling character of political authority remains—the perennial temptation to make it a power unto itself.

We must ask: Is the rightness of an action determined by the positive law? Are human rights defined by those in power? Does “reason of state” render immorality right? When we answer “yes” to these questions, we are guilty of idolatry.

This is why God “has His doubts” about the State, particularly the modern secular state which invariably usurps the moral law. But when Samuel described the slavery that kingship would bring to Israel he also warned them what would follow. “In that day,” he concluded, “you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day” (8:18).

Might this be nothing but another cry of selfishness from those who have refused God’s love?

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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Show 7 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: Travelling - Oct. 30, 2016 4:33 PM ET USA

    Not just discontinued, it should never have been started up. As a Brit I find it an embarrassing and shameless exercise in sycophancy at the expense of the Church's mission- telling people the truth. We can deceive people by our silence in the face of falsehood.

  • Posted by: rsnewbill7950 - Oct. 29, 2016 9:45 AM ET USA

    The dinner was an embarrassment for the Church and the Cardinal himself. There is no way a Cardinal, and thus the Church, should enable a pro-abortion candidate. I am saddened and angry.

  • Posted by: feedback - Oct. 29, 2016 9:36 AM ET USA

    ElizabethD (first comment) stated the very reason why this more and more awkward event is unlikely to be canceled any time soon. On the other hand, the more and more unscrupulous and anti Christian political powers may be using the dinner to blur the lines between "diplomacy" and quiet endorsement of intrinsic moral evils. Either way, it is about time to seriously consider canceling it before it becomes "throwing of pearls before swine."

  • Posted by: steve.grist2587 - Oct. 29, 2016 5:20 AM ET USA

    When I see Catholic bishops, cardinals or prominent Catholic laity yukking it up with stridently pro-abortion candidates, I think of the words of St. Peter Chrysologus - if we laugh with the devil we cannot rejoice with Christ. Furthermore, the photo ops often appear to be a tacit endorsement of anti-Catholic doctrine by our own Church.

  • Posted by: extremeCatholic - Oct. 28, 2016 8:57 PM ET USA

    Could you imagine, the event in the format it has now, being proposed now for the first time by the Archdiocese, and accepted by presidential candidates? Nostalgically, it's a holdover of the mid-20th Century and Francis Cardinal Spellman's power over New York's Catholics. The idea of this sort Catholic solidarity is from another epoch and now is a sad joke on us.

  • Posted by: BCLX - Oct. 28, 2016 5:57 PM ET USA

    Too many time in the last nearly 200 years we have failed to engage the "opposition" and Catholicism has been the loser. The Archdiocese should continue the dinner and be visible and unapologetic in showcasing the work of Catholic Charities. Most Catholics are capable of figuring out who our friends are and a withdrawal from the dinner is not a constructive sign of reaching out and working together.

  • Posted by: ElizabethD - Oct. 28, 2016 3:06 PM ET USA

    I agree the event itself has little worth and is problematic. On the other hand the reason for it may be that it is seen by the bishops (not just Dolan) as an essential piece of their "diplomacy" with the political establishment and especially with the eventual occupant of the White House. Doing away with it may be seen by one or the other or both parties as disdain.