In our 21st Century Western democracy, we do not know what it means for the government to set itself up as God. Democracy is far removed from the Pharaohs of Egypt and the kings and emperors of Assyria and Persia, but that has not stopped our governments from attaining god-like status in our society.
The short of what has happened is the people have made government their god. Our society now looks to government, not God, to provide for necessities, give moral order, deliver meaning and purpose, and above all, tell us the 'truth.' There are some in our democratic societies who don't see the government as god, but as servants of the people (as intended by those who designed our political systems). But they are not the majority, nor have they stopped the government from gleefully accepting the role. So the question is, how did this happen? How did government become our god?
From my observation, the government became a god in North America around 2015, though much of the groundwork was laid over the previous 20 years. In 2015, the sexual revolution found an identity in the rule of law, codifying a new morality. The foundation, however, dates back to the 18th Century, when the same people who rightly argued for a limited, democratic government ironically produced the philosophy that would undermine their political efforts.
The Enlightenment of the 18th Century fundamentally changed how we interact with reality by removing divine revelation from the equation and replacing it with human reason. Reason alone, they argued, could ascend the heights of truth and provide humanity with religion-less unity. For example, David Hume and Immanuel Kant claimed that reason alone could not understand God. Thus, God could not exist—at least in the way divine revelation portrayed. Yet, they kept what they could of God. Hume still realized the need for spirituality, and Kant saw the need for divinely inspired morality, so for them, God became nothing more than a spiritual experience and moral compass.
In step Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Sigmund Freud, Friedrich Nietzsche, and others who, based on human reason overcoming divine reality, began reconstructing society around the idea that the individual was divine. Self became a god. No longer was humanity compelled to conform to God's standard, but now they could imagine their morality and become whatever they wanted to be.
Regardless of the route we took to get where we are today, only now do we see these philosophies become the foundation of our society. Today, each person pursues their 'authentic self' and must by any means necessary express it to as many people as possible. It is not enough to express it, however. Everyone else must accept and affirm them as well.
These people face a massive problem: they are not omnipotent. They cannot compel others to believe what they believe, nor can they force people to accept them. They cannot do whatever they want. So to whom do they turn? Perhaps the better question is: how can they get power?
For quite some time, money and social status ruled as a god. People made themselves gods by climbing the social ladder and amassing wealth to become as self-sufficient as they possibly could. However, society quickly found that money and status did not produce enough meaning and purpose to satisfy the heart completely.
Now society has turned to the government as their god. Municipalities or counties, towns and cities, provinces or states, and the federal government presides over the most significant number of people. What is more, they are servants of the people. Combine our democracy with a population of godless people, and the result is godless people begging the government to be their god. A wealth-gained position in society no longer counts for anything; now you must become 'equal' with the masses. The masses now sway the government (that's how democracy has always worked) not to provide freedom and opportunity but rather meaning and purpose.
Meaning and purpose require a moral code to live, identity in something greater, and direction for life. The societal revolution we see today creates a moral code produced by individuals who identify themselves in the revolution and strive to establish a new society.
Of course, this ruins democracy. But more than that, it ruins lives. It encourages each person to turn in on themselves, to live unrestrained in sin. Indeed, our sinful nature goads us to resist the biblical moral code, telling us it's for our benefit. Yet, when sin reigns unchecked, it ruins us completely. The societal problem we face today is not political or even social; it is spiritual.
What steps must we take to overcome this rot in our society? I will give you three.
1. Believe the gospel
Paul tells us the gospel is "the power of God for salvation" (Romans 1:16). In Romans, Paul continues by laying out the significant tenets of salvation. First, God saves us by faith because our sin destroys us, and our works cannot save us. Second, salvation delivers us from the power of sin, which is ultimately death. And third, salvation removes our guilt of sin. Paul explains that we experience this freedom only in part now because we are still in the body, but we will experience it in full in heaven.
2. Understand the nature and character of God
In salvation, we believe in Christ by faith, and unless we have faith, we will not understand the things of God. Therefore, faith is necessary for understanding.
What we understand about God shapes our entire biblical worldview. The less we think of God, the less God impacts our worldview, and the less God affects our worldview, the less biblical our worldview will be. But more than that, what we understand about God shapes our view of self. The less we think of God, the more we think of ourselves. Thus, understanding who God is in Himself is vital to overcome the self-glorification taking captive our society.
3. Live Wholeheartedly for Him
The result of salvation and a robust understanding of God goes without saying, yet it is still necessary to mention. When we belong to God through faith in Christ and understand the God who saved us, we live differently. No longer do we live in the mortal and fleeting kingdom of this world but in the eternally blessed kingdom of God. More often than not, our lives will run contrary to the way of this world.
So let us advance in the gospel and the knowledge of God. The way of this world is destructive at best and eternally condemned at worst, but the way of God leads to blessings forever.