Government should leave life-changing to Jesus

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By Brian Owens

Last Tuesday, a New York appeals court ruled that Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s effort to place a size limit on non-diet sodas, which had in turn been imposed by the local board of health, was unconstitutional and an excessive use of power.
This determination to curb the city’s obesity epidemic brings up the question: “How much control should our government have over the lives of the citizens?”
We are familiar with the maxim “that government is best that governs least.” Attributed to both Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine, and quoted by Henry David Thorough in his essay “Civil Disobedience,” this aphorism asserts that the ideal government is one that is restricted in its reach and influence.
The framers of our Constitution were wise to human nature and the idea that “absolute power corrupts absolutely;” thus the system of checks and balances that were built into the structure of our political system.
It was Patrick Henry who said that, “the Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people; it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government.” Likewise, it was President Ronald Reagan who said “man is not free unless government is limited. There’s a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: As government expands, liberty contracts.”
This expansion of government and contraction of liberty is taking place before our eyes. Regulatory agencies exercise oversight over everything from how we spend our money to how we make our food. Some oversight is warranted; a brief perusal of the headlines coming out of China concerning the issue of food safety and the lack of accountability among producers should cause us to be thankful that we have national food standards.
There is a vast difference, however, in making sure our local eateries are sanitary and dictating what we can and cannot eat or drink in those establishments. It’s one thing to ensure that restaurateurs aren’t selling rice tainted with Cadmium; it’s quite another to tell them that they are not permitted to sell a super-sized soda.
Honestly, it’s not healthy to consume mass quantities of sugary drinks. Food itself is a good gift from God that can be abused just like anything else. Moderation and self-control should be exercised in all areas of life, including our diets. But for the government to seek to regulate our diets is a gross misuse of power. It is also a misunderstanding of its own purpose.
The Apostle Paul, writing in Romans 13, tells us that government wields God’s sword against wrongdoers, and 2 Peter 2:13 says that God instituted human government to punish evil. At the same time, we know that human government is not perfect; our justice system is flawed because it is superintended by sinful, finite, biased people.
God did, however, institute government as a temporary means to restrain human wickedness until the day comes when the Lord Jesus Christ returns to put an end to all human wickedness. Laws and the consequences of breaking those laws are a reflection of the image of God in man and our innate desire for a moral and just society.
The problem of man is not how much soda he drinks or how many carbohydrates he consumes. Our often gluttonous appetites are an outgrowth of a far bigger problem. Our sin has separated us from our creator and causes us to seek to fill that void with everything from food to sex, from careers to money. Our obesity epidemic is more than physical; it is spiritual as well. It is a physical manifestation of the idols our hearts produce. Legislation may limit the sugar in our sodas, but it can’t remove the sin in our hearts. Only the Gospel can do this. Our government would do well to remember its role and leave the life-changing up to Jesus.

Brian Owens is an associate pastor with youth and children emphasis at Farmdale Baptist Church. He can be reached via e-mail at brian@farmdalebaptist.com.