Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Government Messing with Your Life? by Dr. Paul Dean of True World View

I’ve had some experience with South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) recently. We have a pool and swim team in our neighborhood. During practice and meets the coaches remove the ladders from the pool to prevent injury. They’re acting on experience and have the ability, like most of us, to make wise decisions for themselves and those under their care. Yet, DHEC insists the ladders be bolted into the concrete to prevent them from coming out while someone is climbing out of the water. The fact that it’s actually impossible for the ladder to come out while someone is on it by virtue of two or three laws of physics is beside the point; the government has spoken. It doesn’t matter in the thirty-six year history of the pool that no one has ever fallen off the ladders, while countless kids have banged themselves on them in swim practice. I saw one child ( doing backstroke) almost wring his arm off when he jammed it between the ladder and the wall.

DHEC also showed up at an indoor practice I was attending. The chlorine level was extremely high and kids were coughing their lungs out. DHEC closed the pool; I thought to myself, “I understand.” The coaches had already asked that something be done. I then found out the pool wasn’t closed because of high chlorine but because the door was propped open and a baby could wander outside. Understand, there were no babies in the pool (it was high school swim team practice), the area on the other side of the door was fenced in, and the door was open to provide fresh air for swimmers chocking on hazardous chlorine gas. Didn’t the coaches make a wise decision for themselves and others based on the situation? But once again, the government has spoken.

How should Christians think about these things? We might be tempted to say there’s no Christian way to look at these situations other than we must submit to government and put down anger/frustration in our hearts. Those two dynamics are true; but that’s not all we can say. We can promote the ways of God as we analyze the scenario by asking a simple question: biblically speaking, does pool operation (or whatever) fall under the role of government, the church, or civil society at large (the market)? Let’s think about it.

What’s the role of government? Government exists to protect us from one another. It protects but it doesn’t interfere with people’s pursuits. Why is that the case?  A limited government flows from gospel principles, the nature of man, and civil society. The gospel is non-coercive; we persuade men to follow Christ, not force them. Nor do we force Christian living on them. Yet, man is sinful. People engage in things like murder and theft. Therefore, we need government to protect us from one another (so society can be civil). What’s the role of the church? It’s to promote the ways of God in the culture. What’s the role of the market? To pursue life, liberty, and happiness through means not harmful to others based upon individual gifts, talents, and calling.

So, who’s responsible for pool operation? It’s certainly not the role of the church. Some might say it’s the role of government (apparently DHEC thinks so). There’re issues of safety and therefore protection involved. However, we’re not talking about a person from the pool hurting someone nor are we talking about anyone actually being hurt at the pool. If a lifeguard hit someone with the ladder, or shoved a baby out the door, then governmental action (arrest and trial) would be required. But is it the role of government to establish and enforce pool rules on the chance someone might get hurt? Should the government say you can’t have a diving board because someone might get hurt? Diving involves risk and is a matter of personal choice. Now, if the diving board was broken and some was hurt as a result, then the pool would be responsible. The government only steps in where someone is actually hurt, not potentially hurt.

The issue of pool safety (ladders, chlorine, and the door) falls under the role of the market. Those involved in individual situations make better decisions than government inspectors who don’t have all the facts. Moreover, a pool that’s not safe will not reach its revenue potential. And ultimately, it’s subject to strict penalties in cases of willful or negligent harm to others. The pool is highly motivated by the market to provide a safe environment.

Now, what’s the real issue for Christians? Are we simply complaining about more government intervention in our lives; the loss of revenue when government shuts the pool down; the inconvenience of lap swimmers who showed up only to be turned away because the pool was closed? No, we’re not. Here’s the point: the reason we have increasing government intervention and loss of liberty is because the Christian worldview is no longer dominant in American thought. The gospel affects everything. As long as people are not influenced by it, their darkened minds will continue to inflict senseless and harmful policies on the citizenry. Until the church wakes up and fulfills her role, the roles of government and the market will continue to be confused. And, the government will increasingly intrude into the role of the church. Christianity is already marginalized in our culture.

We advance the gospel for God’s glory and the salvation of souls. But, one of the by-products of gospel advance is biblical worldview advance. That worldview alone will keep a society free and progressively conformed to biblical values as more individuals freely embrace it. The gospel is the only thing that will keep the government from messing with your life.

One final thought: is it our goal to keep the government from messing with our lives? Not really; our goal is to honor God no matter what. That’s why Paul told the Roman church to submit to an evil government (Rom. 13:1-7). As long as our focus is on God and His kingdom, we’ll be content no matter what our earthly government does. And think about it; if that’s truly your focus, the government can’t mess with your life because it’s hidden with God (Col. 3:3; Eph. 3:1).

[You can find Dr. Paul Dean at True Worldview ]

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