Big Questions

Ethics/Politics

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).

About the Author

 Shiao Chong is editor-in-chief of The Banner. He attends Fellowship Christian Reformed Church in Toronto, Ont.

See comments (2)

Comments

Its not just "Reformed thinkers" who tend to "occupy the middle ground between these extremes" but all thinkers (pretty much everyone).

The question posed by this article is beyond enormous of course, deserving treatment by more than one book rather than a single short article.  But if we must discuss such enormous question by framing them so tritely, it needs to at least be said that Reformed Christians aren't particularly unique in generally avoiding both (1) total unlimited government power to control all matters economic and (2) the total abstention of government in matters economic.

It should also be noted that even if this article creates the hypothetical that presumes individuals to be without non-government communities, such is almost never true.  In the real world, individuals are almost always supported by families, friends and non-relative communities, churches being only one of the latter.

Finally, and also contrary to a claim made in this article, the Bible sometimes does indeed sometimes describe poverty as the result of "individual lifestyle choices."  Proverbs is replete with such references, but that's not the only book.  It is the recent "social gospel" movement, a movement that at least one CRCNA has drawn from quite deeply, that presumes all poverty results from the oppression of others and never from individual choices.  And that is unfortunate (as well as inaccurate).

Your premise is flawed. The bible doesn't equate justice with economic equality. Marx did...Justice is never defined as parity of outcome. It is defined by equal treatment under the law.  Justice is about equal opportuinty. Poverty is cured most effectively by daily work. Private citizens using God' given talent, skill, passion and determination provide not only for their own, but almost always produce a surplus as well. The surplus is needed to care for the poor, who will always be with us. The poor are not helped when everyone is made equally poor, which is what socialist governments aim to do. No socialist system of government has ever enriched its society. Yet we believe that we ought to keep trying via these means. Truly baffling! 

Also, Jesus parable of the talents doesn't end with all three examples being given the same amount. The first two saw their shares doubled while the third was left with nothing. So much for equality of outcome. All were given the same opportunity. 

X