It’s Christmastime. With that said, I have been reflecting a bit on the whole Christian narrative. I grew up in church, and I have some knowlege of the Hebrew scriptures and Christian apologetics. The Israelites were ruled tribally, by judges, for a great portion of their history, upon reaching the promised land. Eventually, they asked God for a king. He granted their petition, but the experience of a monarchy did not live up to their expectations.
But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”1 Samual 8:19-20 NIV Bible
I have been wondering to myself: Why did Israel want a king to begin with? The verse above elucidates. “We want a king…then we will be like all the other nations.” This reminds me of when my brother begged my parents to get his driver’s license as soon as he turned 16. The justification? All the other kids have theirs! In Lacanian psychoanalysis, scholars refer to this idea of symbolic castration, alongside the premise of the non-castrated other. This basically means that from a subjective perspective, an individual perceives others as being whole; whereas, the self is perceived as lacking. In the case of Israel, the other nations were whole because they were ruled by kings who led them into battle. The implications of conquest and consumption cannot be denied as residual benefits of monarchical government. The king functioned, for Israel, as a fetish–a magical object disseminating prosperity to the nations. If only we had a king, we would be complete. Of course, we all know, things didn’t work out as the Israelites hoped.
They desired a concrete stand in for God. In lieu of a priest, they favored a king. They believed the king would augment the value of the community–make it competitive against all the rival powers of the day. David was a great king; Solomon was ok. The line to follow failed. And failed. And failed. Nevertheless, the king fantasy persisted. Thus, the King of Kings was promised.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Couselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.Isaiah 9:6 NIV Bible
The promised king would solve Israel’s problems. He would fill the lack.
He will set up a banner for the nations and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, And gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.Isaiah 11:12 NKJV Bible
The earthly kings failed. Would a God-king prevail?
In Sunday School, I learned that the advent of Christ was God’s answer to the problem of Israel’s defunct government. Christ was sent to rule the hearts of men, as opposed to their society. He was born in a manger. He was a carpenter’s son. He hung out with crooks and sinners and preached a lifestyle of love and mercy. He forgave, releasing folks of the burden of their transgressions, and all this occurred before his death on the cross. Jesus became the stand in for God: the authority to negate all prior and existing authorities.
Then, he died.
The people of Israel learned, through their sordid past, that earthly authorities lacked the competence required to bolster their collective power to endure the contest of nations. They conceded to the impotence of earthly authorities, believing that a godly authority would grant their desires–make them Great–establish their rightful domain over the earth. The godly authority descended. He dwelled among men. He exemplified unconditional love.
Then, he died.
Why? Why didn’t he ascend a marble throne, endowed with gem encrusted crown and ermine?
I think it’s because it was never, ever, about establishing wholeness, dominion, or power. I believe that the divine energy, whistling through the strands of time, incarnated Jesus, empowered him, and established his command so that it could break the illusion of authority over human existence. Perhaps, the divine assumed the fantasy of kings would be broken when the sovereign line royally failed to establish justice. I am certain the divine knew, knows, has known the illusory nature of the fantasy. Perhaps, the spirit hoped that Israel would waken to the truth after repeated disappointments. Fantasies are nothing, if not stubborn. Their grip can only be shaken through shock and grief. Dire measures must be taken, and so the son of man descended. Then, he volitionally surrendered all authority; it shattered with his bones upon the cross.
Perhaps, the divine ordained all so that we, through shared tragedy, shared grief, in the loss of god, would pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and assume responsibility for ourselves. Because that is what happens when fantasy shatters–we must pick up the pieces. There is no other choice. But unbound by the illusion, we are privileged to decide for ourselves how to live out the remainder of our finite human existence.
I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe it infuses the entire earth. I believe it dwelled in Jesus. I believe it dwells in me. I believe it is the power that wakens us from the illusions of implicit authority. Authority is imposed. We learn to respect and adhere to its burdens. Authority judges. Authority controls and enslaves. God is not authority. Authority is man-made, and the only way to access liberty is through the death of the symbol. Divine spirit knows that, so divine spirit capitulated to our petition for a king; further, it sacrificed that king, so we (humankind) could waken to the reality of our freedom, the reality of our responsibility.
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has annointed me to proclaim the good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for prisoners.Isaiah 61:1 NIV Bible
May your chains be broken this Christmastime. May you identify the fantasies that shackle you and embrace the freedom that comes from the truth. God died, so you could live. May you embrace your freedom and your responsibility, and may you have peace as you wake from the darkness of night.