Commentary

A Modern Form of Idolatry: The State as God

By Chuck Colson | August 5, 2016 | 11:31am EDT
Washington D.C. (AP Photo)

Back in 2001 on BreakPoint, Chuck Colson talked about a concept that would become a cornerstone of his Christian worldview teaching on government and politics. That concept was “the political illusion”: the idea that government can create the good society and solve all our problems.

In the midst of this extraordinary presidential race, we thought it was time to hear Chuck on this topic again. Now, let's hear from Chuck:

Congress recently shot down a constitutional amendment that would have required the federal government to balance its budget. In essence Congress said, “We can't do it. We can't do what it takes to balance the budget.”

It was a major admission of defeat.

Politicians have been promising to fix the deficit for years. In 1976 both presidential candidates made promises to balance the books. But today the debt is bigger than ever, and growing.

And it's finally beginning to dawn on people that government is not able to deliver on a lot of its promises.

For most of us, that's a hard lesson to learn. We instinctively turn to government to solve our social problems. It's a habit reinforced from the time we're young.

Listen to these quotations from the Teachers' Edition of a fifth-grade social studies textbook.

"Today, when people lose their jobs," the textbook says, "they can get some money from the government." A few pages later the book says, "Today, families who do not have enough money for food can get money from the government." And a few pages later we read, "Today families who cannot afford to pay their rent can get help from the government."

The message is obvious: Government is the solution to every social need.

And here's a quotation that sums it all up. It's from a junior high civics textbook, explaining why the national government has grown so large. The book says that over time, "People were no longer content to live as their forefathers had lived. They wanted richer, fuller lives. They wanted the government to help make their lives rich and full."

What is this book teaching kids? That government can make our lives "rich and full."

This goes far beyond the traditional philosophy of limited government, in which the state is given only certain specified tasks, such as operating a police force and regulating traffic.

Modern societies have fallen prey to what political writer Jacques Ellul calls "the political illusion": the idea that government is actually capable of creating the good life, the good society.

It's a modern form of idolatry, which treats the state as a god.

But like all idols, the state inevitably disappoints those who worship at its shrine. A government that can't even manage the simple accounting task of balancing its budget is certainly not capable of making people's lives "rich and full."

And it was never meant to.

Biblically speaking, government is simply one of the many social structures ordained by God, each with a specific task to do. The job of the state is to promote justice and restrain evil. The hope that it can do more than that--that it can make people happy or fulfilled--is doomed to failure and disappointment.

There's only one way to make life "rich and full"--not by turning to government but by turning to God. The kingdoms of this world rise and fall, but the Kingdom of God will rule in human hearts for eternity.

Chuck Colson founded BreakPoint in 1991, a daily radio broadcast that provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.

Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by BreakPoint.

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