The Book of Beginnings and Political Theory

Recently I read How the Nations Rage by Jonathan Leeman. I found the book to be a helpful analysis of the political situation in the United States. In particular, I liked the way Leeman wrote about the relationship between the Noahic Covenant and modern day governments. Leeman claims, “The Bible evaluates every historical government according to whether or not it accomplishes the task that God set for civil governments in Genesis 9:5-6.” (p. 123)

Leeman makes this connection between the Noahic Covenant and human governments because the Noahic Covenant was established before God initiated a relationship with Abraham. This was a global, universal covenant, not a covenant focused exclusively on the descendants of Abraham or the nation of Israel. Leeman goes on to argue that human governments are allowed to take a number of forms, so long as they uphold the principles of Genesis 9:5-6.

I like Leeman’s line of thinking, and I think it can be expanded across the entirety of Genesis 1-11, that is, all the Bible describes before Abraham. These opening chapters of Genesis describe God’s dealing with humanity as a whole before he began to focus the plan of redemption on the Hebrew people and the nation of Israel. Primarily, these chapters are intended to reveal truth about the one true Creator God. However, in describing how the one true Creator God relates to mankind, these chapters also inform our political theory.

Here are 10 truths I see taught in Genesis 1-11 that ought to inform the way we think about politics in the United States in the year 2021.

  1. There is a Creator. Genesis 1-2 make this abundantly clear. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth by speaking creation into existence. All that exists was created by God, and this Creator God has no rivals. Thus, whatever form human government might take, humanity itself is dependent on God and ought to be submissive to God.
  2. God defines gender, marriage, and family. These realities are all described in the opening pages of the Bible. God creates human beings in his image, and he creates human beings male and female. God brought the first man and the first woman together in marriage, and God designed children to be the normal result of the sexual union of husband and wife. All of this was declared good by the Creator, which means human governments ought not try to redefine or subvert what God has created and blessed.
  3. We are sinful creatures. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve rebelled against God. Adam’s sin was passed down to all his descendants. This is evident in Genesis 4 when brother kills brother. This is evident in Genesis 5 when all of Adam’s posterity die. This is evident in the universal rebellion of humanity against God before the flood and at Babel. Any political system, any political theory, and political party that fails to recognize the sinfulness of human beings must rejected as both unbiblical and naïve.
  4. The world is under a curse. This truth is closely related to the previous truth, but it’s worth making clear. The world itself was placed under a curse when Adam sinned, reminding us that things on this earth are not the way they ought to be. This world is not and never will be utopia, and our political theory must reckon with the brokenness of this world. We expect things to go wrong, and we expect people to do foolish and wicked things.
  5. Evil must be restrained. This is a central piece of the Noahic Covenant when God demanded a life for a life. Because human beings bear the image of God, and because sinful human beings are prone to mistreat other human beings, God commanded Noah to institute the death penalty for those who shed the blood of an image bearer. This punishment was not intended to eradicate evil from our hearts, rather it was intended to restrain the evil in our hearts. This is a primary role of human government, restraining the evil that lives with our hearts. This cannot be done only with “carrots.” There must be “sticks.”
  6. God is involved with creation. The opening chapters of Genesis do not describe a God who is distant from, uninterested in, or uninvolved with his creation. Instead, the opening chapters of Genesis describe a God who is actively involved with the world he created and the human beings who bear his image. He gives special revelation to human beings. He sends judgment on the world and protects his people. While we may not always be able to detect or understand how and where God is involved in the world today, our political theories must acknowledge more than the existence of God. They must also acknowledge God’s activity in the world.
  7. We must value and protect life. This is the heart of God’s command to Moses in Genesis 9. When a human being wrongly takes the life of another human being, the consequence must be the forfeiture of life itself. The notion of capital punishment doesn’t diminish the value of a human life. In reality, the notion of capital punishment actually upholds the dignity of all life, in particular the life of the victim. This commitment to valuing and protecting life must be a centerpiece for all human governments.
  8. Punishment must be measured. When a life is wrongly taken, the punishment is severe – life itself. Implied in this principle is an understanding of fairness and reciprocity. Unlike Lamech who promised a seventy-sevenfold revenge, our punishments must be measured and fit to the crime. God himself acts in this way. When the entire world was united in rebellion, God sent a global flood. When all of humanity united in defiance against God’s instruction to fill the earth, God confused their language and scattered them across the earth. When human governments bear the sword, they must not punish too lightly or too harshly.
  9. Government must not be man centered. This is the heart of mankind’s rebellion at Babel. In addition to ignoring God’s command to fill the earth, humanity sought to make a name for itself. There was no regard for the glory of God at Babel. Today, human governments must acknowledge the existence of God and the glory of God. The end of human government is not the exaltation of any one human being or of humanity as a group. Rather, the end of human government ought to be the glory of God.
  10. Worship is not optional. From the beginning, God expected his people to relate to him with love, trust, obedience, and submission. Human beings were created to worship. Even after the fall, God called Cain and Abel to bring sacrifices. During the days of Seth and Enosh people began to call on the name of the Lord. Enoch was commended because he walked with God. Noah received favor from God and obeyed God’s call on his life. God created people to worship, and governments dare not stand in the way of the worship of God’s people.

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