The U.S. founding fathers subscribed to the social contract theory of government, Thomas Hobbes’ idea, which states that primeval man was born into a violent, brutish and short state of nature. “They then, by exercising natural reason, formed a society (and a government) by means of a contract among themselves” (“social contract,” Britannica). Enlightenment thinkers used this theory to provide a rationale for the purpose of human government. From Hobbes’ perspective, mankind laid down his freedom and equality with his fellow men and vested power in a sovereign, a single individual. Others such as Rousseau and Locke proposed more democratic forms of government. The ideas developed by these Enlightenment thinkers provided a philosophical foundation for the U.S. Declaration of Independence as well as the U.S. Constitution.
The Enlightenment era was one that elevated man’s ability to, on his own, come to a coherent knowledge of truth. Since we know that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 3:5), it is not surprising that a system not founded on such fear fails to realize its objectives. It follows that an idea like that of the social contract is wrong and actually makes little sense. Life in the state of nature was terrible so one generation of humans decided to form a government and on the basis of that one generation’s decision, all of their posterity is locked in to the terms of the agreement? What makes the decision of one generation of humans any more valid than the decision of any other generation? If such a contract existed, it would seem a strong case could be made to question its legality.
The Biblical view on government is not that mankind reasoned himself from a barbaric state of nature into civilization on his own. Certainly, life prior to government was violent and brutish (though shockingly not short for some). Murder entered creation in the second generation and was somewhat mainstreamed a few generations later. The wickedness and violence increased so much that it caused the Creator to regret His creation. “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and the earth was filled with violence” (Gen. 6:11 [ESV]). In response God brought the flood that wiped out almost all of mankind, “but Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (6:8). After the flood, God initiated human government. Government is a divine institution, not the machination of a generation of discontent, but reasonable, humans.
Viewing government as a divine institution is healthier for the state than viewing it as a social contract. Although Hobbes believed that it was a one-time transaction: one generation gives all authority to a king and they are stuck for better or worse, others did not. In fact the U.S.’s own declaration of independence proclaims something much less stable: governments derive their “just powers from the consent of the governed”; “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends” (the ends of protecting life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness) “it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government.” From this viewpoint any group of people who determined that their government no longer worked to protect their rights would be justified to revolt. Every generation could find examples of the government not living up to its end of the bargain in order to justify such action. For example, in our own day, one could make the argument that the U.S. government’s participation in the abortion and military industry clearly demonstration a forfeiture of its duty to protect life. Previous generations had other concerns and future generations will have their own. The point being: if government were based on the idea of the social contract and the principles outlined in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, each generation could make a valid argument for the need for the government to go. This would lead to tremendous instability, and the only thing that holds society together would be Jefferson’s observation “that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” Every generation should be fighting to right themselves, which would be continuous revolution, and it is only (immoral?) inaction that holds things together. Such is the conclusion of the social contract theory of government.
Government comes from God. Citizens are subject to governments, good or bad, because it comes from God. It would seem that in truly tyrannical situations like the current one in North Korea there should be just cause for revolt, but I am not convinced. I am thankful that that isn’t the situation in modern-day America. I have a directive to pray for my government, to pray for those in chains, and not to depend on America or any other government to truly bring “liberty and justice for all.” That comes from Christ and there is a promise of Him one day ruling the nations in righteousness; a divine king overseeing a divine institution.