The interest of Chattanoogans in local economy and self-determination is under threat from numerous sources. The main threat against the interests of people in my hometown and yours is the party whose doings occupy front pages of newspapers and light up your computer screen with headlines — the U.S. government.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is about to announce whether he will join the federal president, Barack Obama, in his takeover of the medical insurance industry through his Democrat-backed Affordable Health Care act by setting up a state-run insurance bureaucracy that would draw millions of people into the federal program and eventually onto the U.S. dole.
Chattanoogans live in a city blessed manifestly in many ways, as its tourist literature and coffee table magazines colorfully declare. In 1993 Christians closed the local abortion clinic. It has had a “riverfront revival.” There has been a moderation of custom among Chattanoogans ranging from their accumulation of student debt to their going into the hole during the housing boom. Is the prospect of such an exchange a reward for their virtue, or an unaccounted-for punishment?
Sovereignty in local economy
In past days I have been rereading various theological works in preparation for an essay set to appear Monday. I’ve been encountering the idea of sovereignty repeatedly, and am uneasy when godly men use it for anyone other than God.
Sovereignty in the ordinary usage refers to the freedom to act. Conservatives oppose U.N. treaties because they cause a loss of “national sovereignty.” They are concerned to preserve an American authority they identify as sovereignty. But only God is sovereign. In His might and majesty He acts according to His will. He acts upon His secret will and in terms of His revealed will. Only God is sovereign in every act, whether it is superstorm Sandy or the arrangement of the local airport to obtain F$878,000 federal grant Wednesday, funneled through the state department of transportation. By means, God brings events to pass.
In the lesser sense of the word you operate under a concept of sovereignty, too. You have a princely — or perhaps queenly — authority in your home, in the dispensation of your time or the outlays of money for good purposes. You pursue a career based on innate gifts.
The idea of sphere sovereignty is developed by Abraham Kuyper, a journalist and statesman who became the prime minister of the Netherlands in 1901. In his famous Stone lectures at Princeton in 1898, he explores the Bible’s limitations on the state as explored by John Calvin and other reformed thinkers.
God’s sovereignty is “primordial” and over the whole cosmos. From God comes a derivative or “deduced supremacy” that includes sovereignty in the state, sovereignty in society and sovereignty in the church.
The question of authority exists because of the fall.
For, indeed, without sin there would have been neither magistrate nor state-order; but political life, in its entirety, would have evolved itself, after a patriarchal fashion, from the life of the family. Neither bar of justice nor police, nor army, nor navy, is conceivable in a world without sin; and thus every rule and ordinance and law would drop away, even as all control and assertion of the power of the magistrate would disappear, were life to develop itself, normally and without hindrance, from its own organic impulse. Who binds up, where nothing is broken? Who uses crutches, where the limbs are sound? (Lectures on Calvinism, p. 81)
Kuyper says the state is part of the fall and “unnatural.” “Every State-formation, every assertion of the power of the magistrate, every mechanical means of compelling order and of guaranteeing a safe course of life is therefore always something unnatural; something against which the deeper aspirations of our nature rebel *** .” This mechanical power leads to dreadful abuses on one side and “a continuous revolt on the part of the multitude.”
Christians’ struggle; authority vs. liberty
“Thus originated,” Kuyper continues, “the battle of the ages between Authority and Liberty, and in this battle is was the very innate thirst for liberty which proved itself the God-ordained means to bridle the authority wheresoever it degenerated into despotism” (pp. 80, 81).
The coming of the Obama administration’s health care law, the prospect of Gov. Bill Haslam creating for Tennessee a health care exchange, and other recent developments are, as Kuyper states, mechanical. He sees in society — what I would call local economy — many social spheres that are organic and the phenomena of life. “[H]igh above all these, the mechanical unifying force of the government is observable. From this arises all friction and clashing. For the government is always inclined, with its mechanical authority, to invade social life, to subject it and mechanically arrange it. But on the other hand social life always endeavors to shake off the authority of the government, just as this endeavor at the present time again culminates in social-democracy and in anarchism, both of which aim at nothing less than the total overthrow of the institution of authority” (pp. 93, 94).
Local economy is constituted by the genius of Chattanoogans — a genius that I would suggest exists in every town and city on the planet. Local economy is about local society, the local life of a city and its people. Government’s role to oppress crime, anarchy and defend the people are mechanical, indeed. Do we need one more program to be created that has little to do with these ends?
Note to my friends. Please pray for me as I work on a text that makes the case to Gov. Haslam as to whether he should create a health care exchange under U.S. control. It’s a slight text that I hope will be used of God to bring a good end to a development that rightly concerns many Tennesseans.
Source: Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1987, 1931). 199 pp.