Am I My Brother’s Master?

“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” – Galatians 6:7

I went to my 20th high school reunion this weekend in in Newton, NC. It was great to see old friends again.

Newton is about 430 miles from my current residence in Columbia, MD, which gave me plenty of drive-time by myself. I left NC heading home on Sunday, driving up I-77 through the mountains toward Virginia before turning up I-81. As I drove, I caught a preacher on the radio giving a sermon on the above verse. God cannot be mocked. Whatever a man sows he will also reap.

He gave some obvious historical references. Adolf Hitler slaughtered millions in the death camps, and met his own demise with a cyanide capsule, followed by a bullet to the back of the head, and his remains were burned in the Reich Chancellery garden. Benito Mussolini committed all manner of atrocities against his own people and those he invaded (like the Ethiopians). He died ugly; executed, then shot some more, kicked, and beaten by the crowd, then strung up by meat hooks and pelted with stones. God is not mocked. When a man sows violence and atrocities, they come back on his head.

Later in the day I caught an interview with some political analysts about the use of religion in political campaigns. They talked about how politicians use religious themes in their campaigns, and how the voting public responds. The general idea is to (i) be religious and (ii) don’t be a zealot.

After this they considered how each candidate in today’s presidential election framed his policies in religious themes. For Mitt Romney it was the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution – which the Mormon Church holds are divinely inspired. Then there was Barack Obama, who typically casts support for social welfare agendas in the light of “I am my brother’s keeper”.

Politicians are slick creatures. They live and die by appealing to the approval of men, which is a squishy business to say the least. But there’s more in Obama’s statements about being my brother’s keeper than an appeal to approval. There is a bit of preaching in it as well. There is the wrapping of an earthly concept (socialism) inside of a Biblical truth (care for the needy). It is an a statement of “vote for me – because my ideologies are Biblical and thus God wants you to vote for me.”

Now, as far as politics goes, that makes a lot of sense. Somewhere between 70% and 80% of Americans self-identify as Christians, so speaking to them in Christian themes is a smart thing to do if you want their votes. But my cause is not to support or oppose the politics of it, but to issue a warning based on clear Biblical teachings (Gal 6:7).

There is a world of difference between forced participation and free participation in a social safety net. (We took this up back in 2010 with “There’s a Big Difference between Trying to get in and Trying to get out“.) Do I have an obligation to care for the needy, the least of these? I think the answer is unquestionably yes. Do I have the authority to force my neighbor to care for the least of these? There I’m not so sure.

The reason I have a responsibility to care for the least of these is Biblical mandate. God told me to love my neighbor as myself. He told me to do unto others as I would have them do unto me. He told me to have compassion on the widows, orphans, and resident aliens. When I fail to do these things, I answer to God.

By the way, God has told my neighbors to do these things too. And when they fail to do so, they too will answer to God. And therein lies the rub.

Romans 12:19 tells us “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” There are aspects of human law whereby we must intervene to defend the least of these – to defend life, liberty, property. But on issues of moral failing, like the failure to care for the needy, we leave room for God’s wrath. We preach, we exhort, we warn, we encourage – but we don’t intervene. We may tell our wealthy neighbors “you should give to the poor” – but if they refuse we leave room for God’s wrath – we do not take their possessions from them to care for the poor. We must soldier on with the resources we have available, and care for the poor as best we are able.

Social safety net programs are exactly the opposite. They use the force of government to appropriate the property (and therefore the lives) of the people in order to do “good” by caring for the needy. Now, we could debate all day about how and when the government (that is me and my neighbors) should appropriate a man’s possessions for legitimate purposes, but that’s not what I’m after today.

No, today I make you a simple proposition – I don’t want you to take my money and use it for social safety nets and welfare. I am perfectly capable of spending my own money to accomplish these goals and can do so far more effectively. (Reports came out recently that the government spends about $60,000 annually on anti-poverty programs per family living in poverty … I bet if we just gave them $30,000 they’d be better off and we’d spend less.) There, now it’s out there. If you read this post you know that there is at least one Christian here in Columbia, MD who has asked you not to take his life and livelihood away for benevolence, but rather to trust that he will take his responsibility to God seriously.

God is not mocked. It is a fair warning before we go to the ballot box today. If we have used the strong arm of the government (which is “the people” in a democracy) to enforce our will on the masses – do not be shocked when the same thing is poured out on us. If we have taken freedom away from our neighbors because we disagreed with their behavior, then we have no right to be surprised when they do the same to us. In fact, we should expect it. God is not mocked. Whatever a man sows he reaps.

That “disagree with their behavior” bit goes a long way too. I may disagree with my neighbor’s sexual behavior, his substance-abuse behavior, or his greedy behavior and callous disregard for the needs of the poor. But, if my disagreement over his misbehavior leads me to insert myself between he and God as a judge, to overstep my bounds as his equal and make myself his superior, his master, I should not be surprised when the same thing comes on me.

“Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.” – Joel 3:14

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