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Our rights come from God, not government. As John Adams, one of the drafters of the Declaration of Independence, explained, “I say RIGHTS, for such [we] have, undoubtedly, antecedent to all earthly government—Rights that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws—Rights derived from the great legislator of the universe.”
Although the state doesn’t create rights, it does have a God-given role to maintain the harmony and order of society (Rom. 13:1). The government is one of many spheres—such as family, economics, art, church, and education—that has been established by God with unique patterns of activity. As to one another, each sphere is sovereign—that is, one does not derive its authority from another. As to God, however, each sphere stands coram Deo—that is, in the presence of God, under his authority and for his glory.
Hospitality in Broken Spaces
In cases of societal breakdown, the state sometimes oversteps its bounds, violating the proper limits of its sovereignty. It tends to move in with the blunt instruments of money and power, creating atrophy in those spheres that need restoration and robbing them of sovereignty over their own affairs.
In these broken spaces, however, Christians have an opportunity to protect the health of those spheres by practicing hospitality. For example, instead of waiting for the state to be the benevolent actor, we can feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and visit the sick (Mt. 25:35-40). As Abraham Kuyper once said:
The government cannot take the place of Christian charity. A loving embrace isn’t given with food stamps. The care of a community isn’t provided with government housing. The face of our Creator can’t be seen on a welfare voucher. What the poor need is not another government program; what they need is for Christians like me to honor our Savior.
When we do these things, though, we must remember that, just as the government doesn’t create rights, neither do we. God alone bestows dignity; we merely affirm it.
For the Life of the World
Today, we’re delighted to share with you Episode 4: The Economy of Order. It is the fourth installment in the seven-part film series, For the Life of the World: Letters to Exiles, that we’ve been featuring this summer. FLOW seeks to examine the bigger picture of Christianity’s role in culture, society, and the world, by asking as its central question, “What is our salvation actually for?”