(Courtesy, Derrick G. Jeter)
I recently read on a politically conservative website that "God cares little for governments or powers. God's business is the human soul." This hit me like an intellectual pothole-it rattled and flattened me, like a car discovering a crater in the road at full speed. I didn't have to think about whether I'd hit my head against an idiotic idea, I knew that by the welt rising on my theological and history-minded forehead.
The belief that God's business isn't that of human government but only that of the human soul is to diminish God to a narrow-minded deity unworthy of the God of the Bible. Such an idea makes God both cruel and unjust-cruel since He chooses to leave us in this savage present instead of taking us immediately into that glorious future; unjust since He doesn't really care whether human beings live in peace or in anarchy. And that is an injustice most cruel.
Older generations of Christians, including the Pilgrims who first came to America, possessed a richer theology. They appreciated and practiced Paul command in 1 Timothy 2:1–2. It was out of the Pilgrims' understanding that God not only cared for the human soul but also for the human body and the world humans inhabit that lead them to construct churches, organize communities, establish grammar schools and universities, commission missionaries, and exercise political power. Motivated by a theology of a God who loves the world not just the soul, their children and their children's children followed their example, establishing hospitals, founding relief organizations, building businesses, fighting for freedom, and creating constitutions-all for the common good.
The Pilgrims understood that God's business is man's business. Or better yet, that man's business ought to be God's business. And since God cares about human flourishing, so should we. And since human flourishing is dependent among other things upon justice, then justice we should seek. And since justice is one of the chief ends of government, which, according to Genesis 9, originated in the mind and was established by the command of God, then it stands to reason that God cares a great deal about whether power is used justly or not.
The Pilgrims' own life argues against the narrow-mindedness view of God. When they arrived off the shores of Massachusetts in the winter of 1620, they found themselves in a predicament-they had no charter to establish a colony in New England. To make matters worse, some of their company, "Strangers" as the more saintly ones called them, argued they were not bound to live under the religious piety of the Saints just because the Saints chose to establish the colony outside the legal boundaries of their original charter. The Strangers could strike out on their own-and they would have if it were not for a deal brokered onboard the Mayflower. "It was thought good there should be an association and agreement that we should combine together in one body," one eyewitness wrote, "and to submit to such government and governors as we should by common consent agree to make and choose, and set our hands to this."
What the Pilgrims chose to set their hand to wasn't a church charter, a statement of faith, or a creed. They set their hand to crafting a compact, binding them together in a body politic. And though the Mayflower Compact includes theological language-acknowledging God's sovereignty and the requirement to obey His Word, as well as acknowledging man's sinfulness and holding him accountable to laws-the Compact, was a legal document. It kept the Pilgrims united through the deadly winter of 1620–21 and established the Plymouth Colony. The Mayflower Compact has rightly been called "The American Covenant," serving as the first great constitutional authority in America. It created equal standing under the law, the conviction of government by the consent of the governed, and the first civil government in America. And yet, it transcended mere governance by establishing in this new land a holy calling: to bring glory to God and liberty to those bound in the slavery of sin.
According to the Pilgrims, who knew their Bible well, God doesn't just make the salvation of human souls His business, He also makes the practice of justice through the establishment of government His business. And so should we.