Some people take offense that most of God’s fences for human behavior restrict us from acting in certain ways that our sinful natures would lead us. They wonder why can’t God be more positive, why is He always a kill-joy? Well, it is true that most of God’s commands are limited when it comes to good works but, unlimited when it comes to bad works. For example, the commandments we are most familiar with, the Top Ten, include the absolute Do Nots: no other gods, no graven images, no taking His name in vain, no working on the Sabbath, no killing, no sleeping around, no stealing, no false witness & no coveting. There is no little bit of sinning, you either steal or, you don’t. You can’t do a tiny work of breaking the commandment to not commit adultery – you either do or, you don’t (regardless what a certain past President might say). And, if you break the negative commandments it is a serious transgression of God’s law.
However, there is one positive commandment in the Ten Commandments (note the ratio, 9 negative, 1 positive) and it is to honor your father & mother. While the negative laws are black & white without degrees (no partial or, half false witness, either one bears false witness or, one doesn’t) the one positive law is not so easily defined. Righteous actions are shaded, unlike sinful ones. You can do a little bit of good or, you can do a little bit more. For example, what does it mean to honor your parents? Make their meals? Make their bed every day? Chauffeur them to work? Clean their house? Call them “Sir” & “Ma’am”? Give them money? How much? You see, there are no limits to virtuous acts; you could give them ALL your money, which would be more virtuous than giving them half, right? The ultimate virtuous act is to give your life for another, Jesus did but, does He normally expect that from us?
This is the problem with legislating positive actions. There is no logical end to them. There is always more one can do that is even more virtuous. That is why God does not spend much time telling us EXACTLY what to do that is good. He gives broad guidelines knowing that each good act has to be determined in context. For example, if one’s parents were needy and one wanted to honor them by giving them monies the exact amount can only be determined by balancing their need with one’s family’s needs. It would not be virtuous to have one’s own children go hungry so that one’s Mother could drive a better car, for example. That would not be obeying the command to honor your parents. In other words, it is almost impossible to exactly define the proper amount of virtue one should do in broad terms because each instant case is different. However, when it comes to negative territory, it is easy to define: If you covet, it is wrong.
So, God thinks it best to precisely define where we should not go & give broad directions on where we should go. What does our civil government do? Well, they often think they are better than God and think they can tell us precisely how much good we should do. For example, Michigan recently raised the minimum wage. Now, many Christians thought this was a good thing to do, saying this “helps the poor”, and similar arguments. But, in reality we now know that mandated minimum wages actually hurt the poorest among us the most. (For a thorough analysis of the bad practical effects of the minimum wage see http://www.heritage.org/research/testimony/2013/06/what-is-minimum-wage-its-history-and-effects-on-the-economy) While increasing Michigan’s minimum wage was probably done with the best of intentions, the unintended effects will actually have the opposite result. And, why did the state stop where it did? Why not $25.00/hour minimum wage or, better yet, $100.00/hour and make us all rich?
This is one reason God is careful not to set too specific parameters on righteous acts, careful weighing of all factors is necessary as resources are limited and when they are dispersed to one place they necessarily cannot be to another.
But, our government believes it is wiser than God and can ascertain that in all circumstances no one should be paid below a certain level, thus necessitating that some people will lose their jobs and others will never be hired that would have been profitably employed before the government intervention. This is a truism because there are, without a doubt, some jobs and some people that are only worth less than the minimum wage. Harm always comes from being specific in legislating moral acts rather than immoral acts.
Lastly, let’s consider the effects on people’s hearts which results from legislating the higher minimum wage. For the employees, they now consider it their “right” to be worth so much money. They have no heart gratitude for the extra largess. They are furthered in their un-Christian attitude of entitlement. For the employers, they are resentful that they must pay more than the market rate, more than what their employees are worth. They are thus pushed into an un-Christian attitude of greed since they now must try to find a way to make up for the un-economic but, necessary expense mandated upon them.
Forced generosity, compulsory goodness, imposed charity does not result in fueling Christianity mindsets. State coercion just doesn’t ring true with the way Jesus teaches and leads us. Maybe government would do a better job were it to pay a little more attention to how God does things.Terry Applegate serves on the board of Citizens for Traditional Values, the European Theological Seminary, and CIMA. He and his wife Val have three children and four grandchildren.The opinions of guest columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of Citizens for Traditional Values.