Summary: A kingdom is better than a democracy - if the king is God..
What is a kingdom? Why would anyone want one? Isnt democracy the cure for everything? One of the words that the religious left uses to put down traditional interpretations of Scripture is "patriarchal." As if just because a system is run by a single male person it must necessarily be a bad thing. Is it better if i’s run by a single female person? Who would you rather have, George Washington or Imelda Marcos? Or how about if it’s run - democratically, of course - by the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, or the Nation of Islam, or Queer Nation? There are good kings and bad kings, good democracies and bad democracies. It all depends on who’s holding the reins of power.
We spent a couple of days arguing liberation theology while I was away at seminary this last couple of weeks. How many of you know what liberation
theology is? It’s the idea that God’s purpose for the world is freedom. Which is great as far as it goes. They point to the great moment in Israel’s history, their liberation from Egypt, as the model we should all follow. Liberation theologians think that the first priority of the church should be to reform political structures so that no one can oppress anyone else. And who’s going to argue against that? I certainly think that the church has a great deal to offer in terms of speaking out against oppression and injustice everywhere we find it. In fact, it’s our duty. If we do not do something about the suffering in the world around us, we are acting like the priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan - you remember, they passed by the man who had been beaten, robbed and left for dead - whether they were in too much of a hurry or didn’t want to get their hands dirty is irrelevant.
And the people who are attracted to this theology have pointed with some justice to those many times in history when the church has been silent in the face of evil, when comfortable Christians have closed their eyes or turned off their TVs when "compassion fatigue" set in. I mean, what can we do, after all, about wars and famines and plagues in other parts of the world? Or in our own back yards, for that matter. We want to fix things. And all the violence and cruelty and oppression in the world is simply too much to bear, and to just keep chipping away at the fringes gets to seeming like so much wasted effort.
The solution, according to the liberation theologians, is to change the structures, to "bring down the powerful from their thrones, and lift up the lowly; to fill the hungry with good things, and send the rich away empty." [Luke 1:52-53] Sounds good, doesn’t it? It even sounds Biblical. Which it is, of course, it’s part of the Magnificat, the hymn of praise Mary sings when Gabriel tells her she is to be the mother of the Messiah.
But the problem with that scenario is this: it doesn’t work.
When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, the political structures did get turned upside down. Not even just turned upside down. They were completely dismantled and stirred and replaced with God’s own design for human society.
God gave them perfect laws. The Ten Commandments were the best laws that the world had ever seen, and I don’t think anyone can point to improvements on them since. Moses told the Israelites to "observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, "Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!" For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is whenever we call to him? And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today? [Dt 4:6-8] They had the most perfect legal and political structures possible.
Besides the laws, God gave them property. He gave them houses and land and fields and absolutely everything they needed to be prosperous and health:. "a land with fine, large cities that you did not build, houses filled with all sorts of goods that you did not fill, hewn cisterns that you did not hew, vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant... " [Dt 6:10-11] They had the most perfect economic structures possible.
But he didnt stop there. Not only did God give the laws and the land, he gave them leaders. He started with Moses and Aaron, who led them out of Egypt, and then Joshua who led them into Canaan, but then look what happened. The entire book of Judges recounts how the people kept disobeying the law and getting into trouble and crying out to God for deliverance. And whenever that happened, "The LORD raised up judges, who delivered them out of the power of those who plundered them. Yet they did not listen even to their judges; for they lusted after other gods and bowed down to them. .... Whenever the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge, and he delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the LORD would be moved to pity by their groaning because of those who persecuted and oppressed them. But whenever the judge died, they would relapse and behave worse than their ancestors, following other gods, worshiping them and bowing down to them. They would not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways. [Judges 2:16-19]