Global Problems, Global Solutions, Part 4

In the desperate effort to overthrow the failing authoritarian government of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, 70,000 Syrians have lost their lives—most of them civilians. Across the Middle East the uprisings of the Arab Spring have given way to disillusion in many places, as old and new governments struggle to meet expectations. Why is good government so hard to achieve?

This is the final installment in our series on global problems. We’ve looked at several major areas of concern which, if left unresolved, could spell disaster for humanity. They are 1) war and the weapons of war, 2) food and water shortages, 3) injustice, and in this episode we’ll discuss 4) failed government.

Human beings have been trying to find the best form of government for thousands of years. Today most want to live under liberal democracy, but is it really the best system?

First, a look at various types of human government. Generally speaking, three forms of government have developed. We know them as monarchy (rule of one), oligarchy (rule of the few) and democracy (rule of the people). Under these categories fall absolute and constitutional monarchy, dictatorship, aristocracy, bureaucracy, and parliamentary and liberal democracy.

As the world searches for better government, we’ve witnessed turmoil sweeping the Arab world. The cry has gone out for reform, the introduction of more democratic systems, and equal rights. In North Africa and the Middle East there’s been much violence and bloodshed as the reaction against existing governments has spread. It started with revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. Then came civil war in Libya. There have been uprisings in Bahrain, Syria and Yemen, and serious protests in Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco and Oman. Lesser civil disturbances have also occurred in Kuwait, Lebanon, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Western Sahara. In each case the populace is focused on overthrowing monarchy or oligarchy and instituting modern democracy.

With all these people ready to give up everything in order to achieve democracy, surely it must be the best form of human government.

Sir Winston Churchill was a perceptive observer of the human experience. He believed in the democratic system, though he didn’t always appreciate the results. A couple of years after the British people rejected his leadership following World War II, he said: “Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Similarly, historian Hugh Brogan recognizes the imperfection of all forms of rule created thus far. Of the future he notes: “If human beings, as political animals, are to progress further, they cannot yet rest from seeking new forms of government to meet the ever-new needs of their times.”

In the push to replace one form of human government with another, what’s often forgotten is that none has proven to be the complete answer. Times and conditions change, and forms of government change too. You might say that left to its own devices, humanity is in for more disappointment.

On this matter of government, the Bible provides a fascinating study and the way to true freedom. The apostle John explained in his Gospel that the two spirit beings we know as the Father and the Son exist eternally in a harmonious, fully cooperative relationship. One of the prophets shows that two cannot successfully walk together unless they are agreed. And Paul also makes clear that the Father is the final authority, and the Son is submissive to His will. They carry out their work together, their actions based on the laws and principles of divine love. But are there biblical examples of right human government?

There’s a clue in the story of David’s son Solomon. When he came to the throne, he asked God for wisdom and knowledge on how to rule. He didn’t ask for the advantages that human rulers might normally seek. God answered Solomon, saying, “Because this was in your heart, and you have not asked for possessions, wealth, honor, or the life of those who hate you, and have not even asked for long life, but have asked wisdom and knowledge for yourself that you may govern my people over whom I have made you king, wisdom and knowledge are granted to you. I will also give you riches, possessions, and honor, such as none of the kings had who were before you, and none after you shall have the like” (2 Chronicles 1:11–12).

This tells us that there’s a fundamental difference in the way godly government and normal human government work. The principles of godly government don’t have their origin in this world’s way of thinking. They’re not based on the will of fallible human beings but on godly wisdom and knowledge. The principles are spiritual in origin and nature and will have a future application.

The foretelling of Jesus’ birth through the prophet Isaiah is well known: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6, King James Version).

Handel used this text in his famous oratorio Messiah. What he did not include was the rest of the statement: “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this” (Isaiah 9:7, KJV).

This speaks of the time of Christ’s rule on earth at a future date. What’s described is a coming time of universal peace and justice under His care. “For a law will go out from me, and I will set my justice for a light to the peoples” (Isaiah 51:4).

Unlike human government, God’s government will grow not by attempts to improve it, but because it’s right to begin with. Justice and righteousness will be evident characteristics. But can we do anything in the meantime? On the individual level, yes.

When Jesus’ disciples argued over who was greatest among them, He corrected their view of government. He told them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you” (Luke 22:25–26). They were not to be like the Roman world around, with its concepts of human authority, greatness and honorary titles. He went on to say that humble service is a key attribute. The day would come when they would have godly authority, but as spirit beings in the kingdom of God.

Human greatness and power over others is simply not God’s way. His Spirit leads along a very different path.