The purpose of government (in a healthy, well-ordered society for this discussion, since the purpose can vary wildly by the kind of society formed) is a just use of force.
In the absence of a just use of force, all kinds of individuals and organizations can forcibly scatter what ought to be gathered, and gather what ought to be scattered. Why should one exert effort to organize and build something when it can be scattered on a moment’s whim by another? Why invest talent and organization of large groups of people around a vision when arbitrary force can destroy the work with 100th of the effort? Uncertainty reigns without the rule of law. It’s one of the core causes of perennial poverty.
The story of 2 Chronicles 29 provides a perfect example of the rightful function of government: Hezekiah came to power (in a monarchy – all military power belonging to the king) and determined in his heart to 1) cleanse the temple his father had defiled it and 2) return the people to the proper following of God and obeying His laws. He declared his intentions, and then the story says,
“Then these Levites arose… And they gathered their brethren, sanctified themselves, and went according to the commandment of the king, at the words of the Lord, to cleanse the house of the Lord. Then the priests went into the inner part of the house of the Lord to cleanse it, and brought out all the debris that they found in the temple of the Lord to the court of the house of the Lord. And the Levites took it out and carried it to the Brook Kidron…. [they took out the trash – they “scattered“] So the service of the house of the Lord was set in order. Then Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced that God had prepared the people, since the events took place so suddenly.”
Why did the Levites arise? Was it because the need for temple worship had increased? Because more supplies were abundant? Because God said so? No, none of those reasons. God’s words were already in their hearts, the need was urgent, and they had the strength, will, money, and time to do the work.
What changed? The heart of the king changed. The government went from a policy of “we will ruin your temple work and allow others to desecrate it as desired” to “we will protect and publicly support your work commanded by God.” The government didn’t do the work, didn’t have to invest extra funds into it (the king did donate some animals later for the festival, but it wasn’t critical to the work), and most importantly, the government wasn’t responsible for it. This particular work was instituted by God for the priests to do, just like there are many works in our world that are designed for a family to do, or the church, or a free press, or independent education, free business, etc. The government isn’t supposed to do much except to protect (by force) those certain rights and responsibilities of everyone from unjust encroachment by others, and to give a “wind behind the sails” to those initiatives by other institutions
The government isn’t supposed to do much except to protect (by force) those certain rights and responsibilities of everyone from unjust encroachment by others, and to give a “wind behind the sails” to those initiatives by other institutions that they are best suited to do. The government is not the highest of the institutions because it exercises the use of force; no, it is to be an equal among others – not above or beneath them. The church is to be equal, the family to be equal, the arts, health and science, education, and media are all to be equal and working their complementary functions. For one of these spheres to rise up and say, “I am to rule every part of the lives of our people for our mutual good” is to bring about great evil.
In our broken civilization today, there are people with the talent and the heart to fix every problem we can imagine. There are enormous stores of human potential in America, ready to be unleashed. If our out-of-control sphere of government can stop harming those who want to do the hard work, and instead lend a hand by public proclamation instead of by public control, then you would witness a complete revitalization of our world within 20 years or less.
“…and all the people rejoiced that God had prepared the people, since the events took place so suddenly.” – 1 Chronicles 29:36