Earlier in the week I wrote a post about the decline of the rule of law and increase in the rule of man in the United States’ governing structure. I would like to continue that thought as it related to the individual human being. Question: Why is the rule of law so important? Answer: Because of the nature of man.
The Founding Generation of this country understood the threat that the rule of man was. I refer to the whole generation, because it was not just the Founding Fathers as we call them, who understood this danger. The original constitution of the United States is known as the Articles of Confederation. It was the product of a group of Founders who did not want a strong central government. They feared such a government would not have the proper checks and balances that could prevent it from taking away the liberties and rights of citizens. They were at war for their independence and did not want their new government to end up producing the same tyranny they were fighting against in Great Britain. In short, the American colonists were taking the developments in British history—the Magna Carta and Glorious Revolution— further down the road toward democracy. They, like many of their British counterparts, had long since rejected the notion of Divine Right, a belief that the king ruled by direct mandate from God and so was exempt from any earthly limitations. To question such a cardinal doctrine, an individual had to come to a clear realization of the fallen nature of man. Even God’s anointed needed boundaries to keep him in line. Some rejected the biblical rationale entirely, and simply argued that man was no angel, but without an understanding of the fallen nature of man, it is difficult to provide a proper explanation for his state. Regardless, most American colonists embraced the notion of the fallen nature of man without question and applied it to issues of governance.
When the flaws of the Articles of Confederation became evident (unable to raise taxes, competently direct the army, or even regulate trade between the states), and the War for Independence was over (a somewhat miraculous feat given the problems in government), the Americans soon realized they needed a more effective government. The Constitution as we know it today was written in 1787 to address the problems of the Articles and the new governing document was ratified by 1789. Our country has operated under this document ever since. Those advocating for a stronger central government influenced the formation of the Constitution. They argued that a stronger central government could actually preserve rights and liberties better by fostering a viable governing structure that would help the young nation survive beyond its infancy. During the ratification process, however, the people demanded guarantees. The Bill of Rights— the first ten amendments to the Constitution—were a result of this demand. They specifically protect certain rights and liberties that the government cannot restrict. The people required these protections because they did not trust human rulers. While the concept of the rule of law was not new, the extent to which the Americans implemented the idea within their government was. The Constitution provided checks and balances within the central government’s structure to prevent one person or one branch of government from taking on too much authority, and the Bill of Rights protected citizens’ rights from infringement by government action.
My point is this: the rule of law is foundational to our governing structure and the success of our nation. We look askance at the machinations of the former Brazilian president and the depth of corruption in her government, but we had better deal with the beam in our own government’s eye. Our country has a history of addressing corruption well. Sometimes it has taken too long to address, but the system has normally worked. The utter disgrace that the Watergate Affair was to the country, now over forty years ago, seems but a distant memory and the lessons of that debacle appear forgotten. We must hold our government to a higher standard. It is easy to assert that the case against Hillary Clinton was nothing more than acrimonious partisanship. The problem is that such arguments were made during the Nixon impeachment as well. When I read about President Obama extending amnesty to millions of illegal aliens after rightly asserting he had no power to do so, and Department of Justice lawyers lying to a federal judge when an investigation ensued, I worry for the sanctity of our system. The clear inconsistency between the facts and Sec. Hillary Clinton’s testimony regarding the email scandal should send shivers down our spines. Is it any wonder that bureaucrats feel no sense of obligation to act with integrity? Judge Andrew Hanen, the judge who discovered the falsehoods coming out of the Department of Justice, has instructed Attorney General Loretta Lynch to develop a plan to keep her department attorneys honest. That does not give me much hope in light of the recent actions of the Attorney General.
The only solution to this problem is found in the understanding the American people had of the nature of man back in the beginning of our nation. The rule of law must be maintained because man is not inherently good. Condoning the destruction of the rule of law by ignoring it or supporting a candidate who obviously flouts it will only perpetuate the problem. The rule of law recognizes that mankind is fallen and has chosen to disobey God’s will (Romans 3:23, Romans 5:12). As a result, mankind must have systems in place to prevent him from abusing others. This is why we have law. The government, which is ordained by God to pursue justice (ie. enforce the law; Romans 13:1-7) must have strong boundaries in place. When those boundaries are ignored, the country is in trouble. For the individual, the problem of fallenness is even more grave, for it effects not only this life, but also the life to come. I have some hope in the government of the United States because the Constitution is a strong document. When it is enforced, the country has a future. My hope is tempered, however, because we recognize just how hard it is to keep man abiding by the law. The individual has reason for unfettered hope, however, because the condition of his fallenness can be overcome by the power of Christ’s sacrifice.(Romans 3:24, Romans 5:17) His death on the cross and his defeat of death by rising again, provided an opportunity for man to be reconciled to God in spite of his fallenness. That does not make his life perfect from that point forward. Perfection will only come in the afterlife with God. But it provides an eternal hope that is not dependent on mankind. Fallen man will never produce a perfect government, but that does not mean he should do nothing to improve government. Conversely, fallen man can work his entire life and never be righteous enough to stand before God. Thankfully, His Son paid the price for those who accept Him. His work on the cross and gift of righteousness to us allow us to stand before God forgiven. That is true hope. (Titus 3:7)