God is an absolute monarch, the absolute monarch of everything. Even Americans and Europeans, the most democratic of peoples, are subject to him though they may resist his commands. But he is also a benevolent and liberating monarch. Unlike human monarchs, he is a creator, the Creator of all that is good. He is an omnipotent, omniscient, and all-loving monarch, and thus his rule is never despotism or tyranny. Unlike human monarchs (and all highly centralized government), he does not lack any power, knowledge, or good-will necessary to implement his policies. In a country ruled by absolute monarchy, the monarch is the whole of political life. So it is in heaven.
Therefore, God is not only Love, not only the Way and the Truth and the Life, but also Politics. He is Government. And yet look how much freedom he allows and gives us (free will). If only governments on earth would reflect and emulate the Government and give their subjects/citizens more freedom, the world would be a better place though still imperfect. If only governments would learn to embrace freedom (especially economic freedom) with all its imperfections, as God has embraced his free people with all their imperfections.
God is also a monarch who respects the dignity of his free subjects (because it is a dignity he himself gave them). Thus, somewhat strangely, he enters into a convenant (or contract, to use a more modern term) with them. Basically, he enters into a deal or bargain with his subjects. This begins with the Jews: “You shall be my people, and I will be your God” (Ezk 36:28). The quid pro quo of the Old Testament convenant is hard to miss. God promises blessings in return for obedience to his commands, which demand both right belief and right action/behavior. And this convenant is continued, renewed, and fulfilled (in the sense that the fact that we can never fully keep our part of the bargain has now been taken into account) in the New Testament. Yes, Jesus slightly modified or clarified some of the Law (mainly the punishments for its violation) for the time in which people then lived and he demands a personal faith and relationship with himself. But the basic responsibilities of both parties to the convenant have not changed; we must still believe in Him and act according to His will. We are free to carry out the responsibilities and receive our reward or neglect them and face the consequences.
Thus God is not only the giver of freedom (and thus all our human rights), he is a giver of Law and Order (just look at the Old Testament). God demands and commands very specific things of us. There is a purpose behind the freedom he has given us: to always choose all the good that all comes from him and that he commands us to choose. And yet he does not and will not attempt to control us or impose his will on his creation until the End of Time, the Final Judgment; he leaves us free to choose and suffer the natural consequences our disobedience (guilt, alienation, conflict, loneliness, depression, suffering, melancholy, pain, disease, etc.). God punishes, but usually through Nature, the natural order, the overarching framework of reality, that he has already created. Thus the physical laws of nature and the moral laws of human nature punish. Reward and punishment take the form of incentives and disincentives, not coercion (sounds very economical…).
But here we come to the interesting and complicated question: does God punish through earthly government too? Or perhaps more appropriately phrased: should government become a means or tool for the punishment of God (especially since he has revealed certain laws)? For example, should government punish murder on behalf of God’s justice? How about rape? Theft? Dishonesty? Adultery? Greed? Pride? Sloth? Impiety? I think most of us would accept some of these as the purview of government but not others even though all of them are evil sins. Why? The correct answer is the master political virtue of Prudence: to prevent greater evils that will probably occur when sinners try to govern other sinners with regard to a particular sin. However, most people would probably appeal to the vague and somehwat unhelpful notion of the “separation of church and state.” However, as easy as it is to separate church and state, it is impossible to separate religion from politics. These people would claim that certain sins or wrong doing are in principle off limits to government punishment. They are imprecise and thus slightly inaccurate in their analysis, though they may reach the same conclusion (I have libertarians in mind). The “harm principle” is ultimately meaningless without an adequate definition of “harm.”
Perhaps it would help if we asked what God has revealed with regard to his relation to government?
Isaiah 9:6-7 “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom,To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.”
God intends an “increase of His government” in the future that he himself will establish.
Psalm 86:9 “All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord,And they shall glorify Your name.”
All nations will submit to his governance.
Mark 12:17 “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” This must have been important because it is repeated in Mt 22:21 and Lk 20:25. Here Jesus articulates powerfully a separation between church and state in some sense. Specifically, he articulates a division between duties we owe to the state and those we owe to God. On a fundamental level, Jesus proclaims that there is a difference between the state and God! One should never confuse the two and make an idol of the state.
Rom 13:1-10 “Let every person be subordinate to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been established by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority opposes what God has appointed, and those who oppose it will bring judgment upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear to good conduct, but to evil. Do you wish to have no fear of authority? Then do what is good and you will receive approval from it, for it is a servant of God for your good. But if you do evil, be afraid, for it does not bear the sword without purpose; it is the servant of God to inflict wrath on the evildoer. Therefore, it is necessary to be subject not only because of the wrath but also because of conscience. This is why you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Pay to all their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, toll to whom toll is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this saying, (namely) ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.”
Government is meant to establish justice as much as is possible. At its best, it is a servant of God.