Friday, January 14, 2011

Liberty and the Wrath of God

(c) 2011 by Tom King

“Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are a gift from God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath?”   - Thomas Jefferson, 1781

Wrath of God?  From Jefferson the deist?  You're kidding, right?

Nope.  Jefferson like others of the founding fathers counted on Americans to understand that the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness was a God-given and sacred thing and that if we denied that right to any man, God would be angry about it.  And that has proved the case over and over. 

Jefferson points up a fundamental difference between God's system of government and man's. God looks to change the heart.  Obedience to the law proceeds from the heart outward.  Man's government forces obedience from above. What TJ was saying was that when we believe that liberty is a sacred thing which God Himself defends, then liberty is safe from us. No external human law or threat of force from outside can insure liberty. In fact, external human control (as with a powerful government) only insures the loss of liberty. The paradox is that trying to "protect" liberty by mustering out the Gestapo, doesn't work very well as a means to preserve liberty. The only practical government for a free people is one in which the people value liberty above all and understand its importance - where liberty is preserved because the people value it.

Okay, so people are uncomfortable with the idea of God's wrath. Try looking at WHY God gets wrathful.  Notice that when Scripture talks about God's wrath, if you look at the historical events, you can kind of see why He might be angry.  Considering the provocation, most of us would agree that He had a reason to be angry.

Take God's insistent that Israel rid itself of the trappings of pagan worship and the temples and shrines in the land. Someone asked me once why God couldn't have simply allowed "freedom of religion" in ancient Israel as He did in America - let the worshipers of Baal and Molech peacefully coexist with the Jews in Israel? Why would that hurt?

Some background information clears that right up. During the early days of Israel, an estimated 22,000 infants were annually tossed into pits of fire as part of the worship of Molech. In Baal worship, all girls, starting around age 13 had to go to the temple of Baal and could not leave or marry until a certain number of the area's dirty old rich guys paid to screw them. Submitting to beatings and abuse were often part of the services they had to perform. Women were not allowed to marry until they had "served" in the temple.There was much worse. I don't blame God one bit for refusing to protect the Children of Israel from their enemies when they tolerated such evil to continue in their midst. It would have made me angry that they tolerated mass murder in their midst.  God simply backed away, removed His protection and let them see the consequences of doing it on their own.

I'm kind of glad God gets wrathful sometimes especially when His wrath is protecting our liberty

If you tell God you want no part of Him, then you have no reason to complain when evil befalls you. If you want God to leave you alone, He honors your wishes. We've have stopped teaching our children to value liberty and taught them to value bread and circuses. Our culture - at least a large segment of it - teaches that there is no God anyway. Of course, they immediately complain when disaster strikes and want to know "Where was God?" 

Hey, if you send him away, God actually goes. It's like the guy who sued the city to keep his restaurant business outside the city limits so he wouldn't have to pay city taxes.  Then he complained that the city's fire trucks didn't come to put out the fire when his restaurant burned to the ground. The volunteers eventually got there to put it out, but it was too late. If you reject the protection, you really have no excuse to complain.

God's wrath over the issue of liberty protects our liberties. But if we tell God we don't want Him or His wrath, then what protects our liberties. Sadly, our liberties are, without our respect for the sacredness of those liberties, in the most danger from ourselves.
Do you know why, no matter how many revolutions they have, so many countries in Central and South America can't seem to fundamentally change their governments. It's one corrupt banana Republic after another. The tenacity of corrupt dictatorships goes back to Spanish rule.  They've always had corrupt bureaucracies in Latin American governments. Revolution only changes the faces of the leaders. The bureaucracy itself, and thus the nature of the government never changes. The system simply molds new leaders into the sorts of corrupt tyrants the system expects - despite their good intentions.

God gave us a country without a history - a clean slate. He helped us win our liberty from arguably the most powerful nation on Earth. We haven't always done well with our liberty. We often tolerated things we should not have like slavery, the Robber Barons, the mass murder of native Americans, the Mexican War, the forced sterilization of people with mental illness by eugenics laws in the early 1900s. And God has punished us for our missteps.  The Civil War, I believe, was God's wrath on us for tolerating slavery so long - both North and South. Because we tolerated robbing people of their liberty as we did with black Americans for so many years, God stepped back his larger protection of this country and let us go to killing ourselves.  Notice how the tenor of the war shifted after Lincolin issued the Emancipation Proclamation. It was the start of the Union victory march.

Though we've made mistakes, all through the history of our country, we have taught our kids the principles of liberty as spelled out in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. We've taught our kids that God values liberty and it was given to us by Him at America's founding. Generation by generation we have become a better, more just and righteous people.

It's been a messy process, but we are the better for it. We didn't do everything right and did many things wrong, but we struggled and still strive, generation after generation to achieve the ideals of liberty. And we have made gains: women's suffrage, freeing the slaves and civil rights most notably.

That's why this country is so sharply divided these days. There are those who would fundamentally change our system from a God-centered respect for liberty to one that is a human centered, enforced from above system that forces people to all think and behave the same way. There is a movement to change "Every man has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" to "Every man has to buy free universal health care, to buy energy efficient light bulbs and to believe the way everybody else does or be shut up."

That's what I see coming. It's the same people over and over trying to enact laws that control what we say and where we say it, what organizations we can belong to and who knows what else.  They say the government should be able to tell us whether we can own a gun, write a book, hold a meeting or speak on the Internet, TV, in print or on the radio. They make no secret that their purpose is to make everyone conform to what they believe "everybody believes". They have no problem removing troublesome dissenters in the name of "peace".

As C.S. Lewis said, "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."   — C.S. Lewis

There are people who think the government should be able to tell people like me to shut up - for my own good, of course. They say we have no right to say what we do any more than we have a right to shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater.

Well, what if the theater actually is on fire?
Just one man's opinion.
Tom King

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