Government, sin, redemption

Almost four years of working in the Government. Why did I choose to work here? Back when I was 18, I believed it was the best way to “help” the ill, the poor and the excluded in our society. I (thought I) had great ideas for what should be changed, and signed on for a free university education, in exchange for 6 years of working for the Government. 4 years of school + 6 years of service – I’m nearly at my 4 year mark.

How has it turned out, looking back? How does the gospel impact how I see and do the work that I’ve been called to do here? The understanding of sin helps me face realities and understand my role in the government.

Face realities: men are inherently inward-looking; they elect governments to pursue their interests on their behalf. In the course of my work, I often think about a text by Hobbes – the state of nature is the state of war. As a society, we wish to be kinder, gentler, more compassionate. But when a nursing home is built right next to our apartment block, we cry foul. We want quick, cheap housing, but we frown at those who labor for hours on end in the hot tropical sun, and are only seeking some solace from the sun as they hang out at the landings of our apartment blocks. This happens so often, that we even have a term here – the “not-in-my-backyard” syndrome.

There is growing distrust between government and citizens. The gist is that government consists of “rich people paying themselves highly while the rest of us suffer!” It can be demoralizing, to be honest.

How do these affect how I think about my work? I first have to realize the limits of any human institution in curbing this fundamental human nature. Then, I choose not to by cynical, but to hope. Daily, I am reminded that so much is not in my hands, nor any man’s hands (those “perfect solutions” I once dreamed of were not so perfect once I understood the range of perspectives, operational issues & sometimes, the problems of legacy and ego that get in the way. Real problems, mind you.). Only God can address the fundamental issues at play – fundamental issues of the heart.

And he does; he can. I am encouraged to see that men also have an innate sense of justice, which shapes their idea of what a country should be. Critiques of our welfare and healthcare systems come from the desire to have a society where justice prevails – where the widows, orphans, the elderly and ill are taken care of. Where we do not leave the market to assign value to people based on traits that we win through the genetic lottery. This is something to celebrate. One of the goals of government is not to shut down these critiques, but to cultivate them and create the space for people to take action together.

Knowing that we have a God who works on our behalf and cares about justice far more than we do, I’m freed up to think hard about what it is that I can do. Within my sphere of influence, can I speak up for those who do not have a voice? In my first job, it was on my heart to speak up for equality in treatment of kids with special needs (and do the analysis needed to support my proposals). I was given many opportunities to do so. I also think about what we can do to restore trust with the people – be more open about the facts, even if we don’t look so good; be vulnerable and admit that we don’t have it all solved, that some things really do take five or ten years to achieve – even in super-efficient Singapore.

It’s about creating authentic relationships between government and people, the space for us to build something together. That is, in itself, redemptive.

Let’s end with that for now 🙂

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