The following is an excerpt from the article Dealing with Corruption in Malaysia: A Biblical Framework by Mark Lovatt which brings together personal stories, practical advice and an in-depth theological framework to equip Christians in those many countries of the world where such work seems hopeless:
Since theology is the study of God, we should start with what we know of God and work from there. To be successful, dealing with corruption must be done God’s way and according to his methods and purposes. The men and women wishing to take on this difficult challenge must be made aware of this from the start. This is the testimony of the brave people whom I worked with and interviewed to put the framework together. For them, entry into the arena was first and foremost a step of faith to begin a new journey with God….
The framework begins with God. God created the heavens and earth, and humanity in his image. All things are his and everything comes from him. This is a foundational statement to make it clear that God is powerful, the source of all, and has ultimate jurisdiction over all things.
We then note that God is active in extending his authority here on earth by his power. He is not a distant God, the God of Deism, but rather the God revealed in the Bible: strong, active and working powerfully to achieve his purposes: the coming of his Kingdom.
What is the nature of that Kingdom? It is a Kingdom of justice, truth and righteousness. These qualities reflect his very being, and are non-negotiable. This Kingdom has come, is coming, and will come, with its completion at the Eschaton. This is what God is working towards, and he calls us to join him.
In fact, this mighty God, at work around us, calls us into a loving personal relationship with him, that we might join him in his eschatological purpose. This is the nature of the relationship: it is not passive but active, with clear instructions (for example Matthew 28:18-20), resources, plans and power. When we abide in this relationship, we experience God at work in and around us, bearing fruit by his power.
The basis of this relationship is the Cross of Christ. It is through the Cross that we are made righteous in God’s eyes and the Holy Spirit is able to work in and through us to the greatest depth. Without the work of Christ, God would by necessity have to keep his distance, since we in our sinfulness would be destroyed by his wrath. Through Christ, though, we can enter into God’s presence and he can abide in us and we in him and, by his Holy Spirit, bear much fruit.
Holiness is therefore essential to our walk with God. We are called to be holy. We are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from ourselves but is a gift of God in Christ Jesus. However, holiness in our daily lives is what God requires of us. How should we understand holiness in the context of corruption? It is to walk in obedience to God, doing things his way and to his timing, and not allowing sin into our lives or stepping out of obedience. Both these are essential when dealing with corruption: the former to ensure we do not allow ourselves to become corrupt, and the latter to ensure we don’t give up, nor move too quickly or in the wrong direction. Following God’s direction is critical for this work.
What about sin? Sin can be defined as the abuse of power, given in trust, for selfish gain. This breaks God’s holy law. Why this definition? Many are available. However, this goes to the heart of the matter: it is a question of power and abused trust. We see this first in the Garden of Eden, where God entrusted the tree of the knowledge of good and evil to Adam and Eve with the command not to eat of its fruit. However, they took it for themselves, in disobedience to God, for their own selfish gain, regardless of the consequences of destroying the relationship of trust they had with God. We see this repeated through the scriptures: people taking what they want to use as they like, for example with David and Bathsheba, the depressing list of rulers in Kings and Chronicles, and in people like the Pharisees who used their religious authority for their own benefit. On this understanding, the definition of sin is closely connected to the definition of corruption, provided by Transparency International, as ‘the abuse of entrusted power for private gain’.
Where does sin come from? From the heart, the very centre of human nature itself. Sin, evil and corruption are not incidental to humanity but form part of our core nature. It cannot be educated out of us, or laid to rest by material well-being. Many of the corrupt leaders across the developing world are highly educated, smart and articulate people. They certainly lack no material thing. Yet still they procure vast sums for themselves, and at the expense of the poor and downtrodden amongst their own people. This has always been the case and, unless and until the right corrective measures are taken, continues to be so. It is the social structures, not human nature, which changes. Next door, in Singapore, we have perhaps the cleanest and most law-abiding citizens in the world. When they cross the causeway into Malaysia, they are notorious for speeding, paying off the police to avoid traffic summons, and dumping McDonald’s food wrappings out of the car window. Many of course don’t do this; however it is clear that it is by and large fear of the consequences which hold them in check in Singapore, not some kind of angelic human nature.
We know the end result: sin and evil will be destroyed by God in his time. The final solution to the problem of evil is eschatological. However, sin and evil remain powerful and destructive in the meantime, and it takes much to overcome them. In other words we cannot be complacent and assume everything is fine, just because the end is assured. We must be realistic about the power of human sin producing evil, and the works of the Evil One. Spiritual warfare against the unholy triad of the World, the Flesh and the Devil must be acknowledged as having an essential place in our approach. In practice this means: taking practical precautions like keeping our personal details secret; praying for protection against spiritual and physical attack; and seeking God’s guidance regarding the approach and timing, especially when dealing with the strongholds of corruption. All these things are real and have been witnessed by ourselves in our colleagues at various times and we must be wary of them.
What about bribery and corruption? Are these really sinful? Many businesspeople regard bribes as just a cost of doing business in certain countries, like hotel accommodation, conference fees and air fares, and simply build the cost of the bribe into the contract price. After all, they argue, it is not they who are the problem: it is the public official demanding payment in order for them to secure the contract who is guilty. The biblical position, however, is clear: bribery and corruption, the use of gifts or influence to secure an unjust result, are expressions of sin and are unacceptable to God. There are plenty of verses to prove this, for example: Proverbs 17:23: A wicked man accepts a bribe in secret to pervert the course of justice. Isaiah 1:4: Woe to the sinful nation, a people whose guilt is great, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him. Hosea 9:9: They have sunk deep into corruption, as in the days of Gibeah. God will remember their wickedness and punish them for their sins. Amos 5:12: For I know how many are your offences and how great your sins. There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts. Ecclesiastes 7:7: Extortion turns a wise person into a fool, and a bribe corrupts the heart. Micah 7:3: Both hands are skilled in doing evil; the ruler demands gifts, the judge accepts bribes, the powerful dictate what they desire— they all conspire together.
How are we to deal with corruption? It must be overcome, but it begins with God in his power. Recognising that it is God’s power which really does the work is essential. Our task then is to serve God diligently in the work he has called us to, trusting in his power to work in his way. For example, we look for the unusual coincidences which indicate that God is at work around us: meetings, conversations, strokes of ‘good luck’ which open the door to new opportunities. This requires a degree of prayer as we ask God to show us his ways. It also occurs in God’s direct provision. For our unit of our anti-corruption NGO, the right staff seem to come along when we need them, often willing to work for minimal wages (or nothing at all) to serve with us; or our first client paying a large sum of cash up-front without preconditions, which gave us our seed corn funding. You can usually tell when the Lord is at work: things happen almost by themselves. Of course we then have to work hard to make the most of the opportunity, but with God, the impossible is made possible and, for our unit, it has come together remarkably easily.
For our work, the right staff seem to come along when we need them, out of the blue often through a personal contact or email. At the very start of our work in 2011, our first client payed a large sum of cash up-front without preconditions, which gave us our seed corn funding. You can usually tell when the Lord is at work: things happen almost by themselves. Of course we then have to work hard to make the most of the opportunity, but with God, the impossible is made possible, and this is what gives us hope and confidence for the future, even in the most difficult of circumstances.
Reach Mark at mark.lovatt (at) trident-integrity (dot) com