Q What is the government’s role (if any) in regulating wealth so that people who have few economic opportunities (for a variety of reasons outside of their control, including class, race, disability, or broken families) have more access to opportunities?
I believe a biblical perspective on this issue avoids both totalitarianism and individualism. In a totalitarian state the government exercises its power to regulate almost anything necessary to achieve economic equality. On the other extreme, individualism prefers as little government intervention as possible. It is up to individuals to freely succeed or fail in the economic race.
Reformed Christian thinkers tend to occupy the middle ground between these two extremes. We believe there are limits to the government’s scope and authority. But we also recognize that in a sinful world, the strong and powerful will almost certainly disadvantage the weak and poor by controlling the inside track of the economic race. Governments need to help ensure a fair race. This has strong biblical warrant: “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern” (Prov. 29:7).
The Bible does not see poverty as simply caused by individual lifestyle choices but also by oppression from the ungodly powerful (Job 20:19; Ps. 14:6, 17:14; Ezek. 18:12; Amos 4:1). The Old Testament laws for Israel do not only regulate criminal justice for theft and murder but also regulate “proper working conditions and wages of laborers, the rights of the poor to the leavings of the grain and vintage harvest, provisions against the exploitation of the poor . . . and other important regulations” (H. Henry Meeter, The Basic Ideas of Calvinism, pp. 102-103). The Bible strongly rebukes any society that fails to help the poor. In fact, one of the sins of Sodom was not helping the poor and needy (Ezek. 16:49).
Therefore, in the words of our contemporary testimony, “we urge governments and pledge ourselves . . . to bring justice to the poor and oppressed” (Our World Belongs to God, Art. 53).