Dan Popp
Which is better: Doing good, or following rules?
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By Dan Popp
February 16, 2016

In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution. – Thomas Jefferson

My company is located in a business condominium. In my ten years here I've often been struck by how our condo board is the U.S. government in miniature. It's made up entirely of people who believe that their job is to do good – to pave the parking lot and change the lights and improve the signs. And they're very pleased with their own performance in Doing Good Things. As to following the bylaws, eh, what are those? Learning the rules might take time away from the good they're doing.

This is the great divide in America right now: people who want government to do good, versus people who want government to follow the rules. The first group will say that the rules were written long ago for a much-less-enlightened people than we are. The rules were there to keep people from doing bad. We're not going to do bad – we want to do good! You rules-sticklers are living in the past. You can't get any good done that way!

The counter-argument is much less flattering to our pride. You have to obey the rules because that's what makes us an orderly group, rather than a mob. The rules aren't there just to prevent you from doing wrong; the rules actually outline what is right. And the fact that you consider rules to be beneath you shows how twisted your tiny soul is. Without the rules, your "good" could mean anything! If we throw out God's prohibition of murder, someone might call killing an innocent baby, "good."

In our country, as in my condo, the transparency required for "government by the people" is out the window because our deputies know better. We're trying to do good here, just shut up and let the grownups govern.

Isn't that how Obama and Hillary and all the barbarians think? We don't need to follow your silly rules about classified emails (even though we swore we would) because we're serving a higher law – the law of Progress. This view rests on the proposition that we are good people. No matter how many laws we break, or interns we commit adultery with, or citizens we abandon to terrorists, or lies we tell about it, you can always be sure that we have your best interests at heart.

In contrast, the assumption of the rules bunch is that no one is good, inherently. So anyone in power should be mistrusted; the rules apply to everyone, and all government actions must be open to scrutiny by the Sovereign, that is, the People. The Bible and the Constitution were written a long time ago, yes, and the world really has changed a lot since then. But human beings have not changed one atom. There is nothing antiquated in the ideal of "a government of laws, and not of men."

In the spiritual realm, God gave us the Law before he gave us the gospel. The rules came first. We needed to learn by experience that we're not good people. Then – then! when the grace of the gospel comes to us, and we receive it and are renewed inside, what does it do? Does it allow us to erase the rules? No, "God forbid!" It causes us to want to obey the rules. "Do we then nullify the Law through faith?" Paul asked. "May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law." (Romans 3:31)

There is no "good" that breaks the Law of God.

It's dismaying that Republicans and so-called conservatives are too often in the camp of the do-gooders. We don't clearly understand that the good of government is not the positive good of feeding the hungry, educating the ignorant and running pension programs. Those goods come from the institutions of family, church and the like. The good of government is the "negative" good of protecting the rule-followers by punishing the rule-breakers. May God save us from Presidential candidates promising to "save" unconstitutional do-gooder programs, and even proposing their own novel twists on lawlessness.

When King Saul infamously disobeyed the command of the Lord in 1 Samuel 15, he "set up a monument for himself" (verse 12). His pretended good deeds were really self-promotion. Saul believed he was above the rules because he was good, but God called him "evil," and removed the kingdom from him. Only the ruled may rule.

Following the rules is doing good. Claiming to do good while ignoring the rules is evil.

If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. – Jesus (John 14:15)



Postscript: As I was writing this essay, we learned that Justice Antonin Scalia had passed away. He personified the idea I've been trying to explain here: That just government consists of following the rules, rather than innovating "good" uses for collective force. Our loss of this one man may be greater than we realize now.

"Ultimately this theory of the living Constitution will destroy us, it will destroy the federal courts. Once the people figure out what the game is, they will say, 'We will select our judges on the basis of who will create the Constitution that we desire.'" – Antonin Scalia

© Dan Popp

 

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