I am still trudging through the Old Testament where Israel, once it settled in the Holy Land, established as its form of government monarchies. In the following centuries, the kings sometimes succeeded in pleasing God but mostly earned God’s wrath. One could argue that God basically disapproves of the idea of Israel having a king. In fact there are scripture passages to prove God’s point of view on this matter. But, reluctant as God was, he tried to work with the system. He tried to establish justice and peace through the kings who ruled over God’s people.
Jesus came along during a time when the Israelites did not have a king of their own. They lived under the leadership of a foreign king, Rome’s Caesar. Rome was fairly tolerant of the Jews and allowed them their religious practices as long as they didn’t mess with Rome’s ultimate authority. But there were the zealots who had this idea that God intended that Israel return to the monarchial system with their own king to rule the land. These Rome tried to keep under wraps but eventually the zealots roused up a rebellion and in the end, Jerusalem came tumbling down. Jesus’ death can, in part, be attributed to his association with the zealots. He was accused of promoting a kingdom other than the Roman kind. They did not grasp that Jesus’ kingdom was not of this world. The leaders of the Jews, the priests, did not grasp it either.
If people today are somehow looking to support their idea of a political system by using the scriptures, I say “Have you ever read the bible?” There were no democracies in the time of either testament. There may have been some little groups among indigenous people, perhaps, that operated sort of like what we would call a democracy. But the only system the Jews “got” was a monarchy – rule by a king. But this didn’t necessarily contradict their ideas about justice. The Old Testament law defines this – justice, fairness, caring for the poor, the widows and orphans, even guidelines about how money and property were to be managed. A good king who followed this plan had God’s approval and support.
Those who wrote our Declaration of Independence and later the Constitution were not the first to consider a democracy. Many of the tribes that the Europeans found in America operated like democracies and there were visionaries in the west that left their dreams of new ways of managing nations without monarchs in writing.
Democracy was revolutionary idea It had the potential for justice to work in ways that monarchial systems did not. The specific system drawn up by our founding fathers was a good one. When I stand to salute the American flag and sing our national anthem, I think about these fathers and their vision. But, when I get all choked up, is it not because I believe America is right and the rest of the world is wrong or that we are in some way following God’s will and the rest of the world is heading down the road to perdition. Absolutely not! Here are some thoughts I have had as I watch the United States do its business of developing its democracy:
- Just because democracy has the potential for justice to work doesn’t mean it does. Potential is not actual. A monarchy works great for the populace if they happen to have a wise and just king. It isn’t the system that matters so much as the attitude of those in rule.
- I have heard of our United States system referred to as “the great experiment.” That is exactly what it is – an experiment. In my opinion, the experiment has failed. It isn’t the system that has failed. There are crazy people in the lab. In monarchial systems, the people may be saddled with one crazy king. We are saddled with as many as 536 crazy people: 435 in the house, 100 in the senate and the one almost-king.
- Is the system of democracy really God’s design? The Old Testament and at least the zealots in the New support the idea that God works through monarchies. It would be a stretch to think of democracies being in any way supported by Jesus. I would suggest that Jesus did not support any system. He meant it when he told Pilot that his kingdom was not of this world. But if you look to the Acts of the Apostles and to the letters, I would suggest that the early church, inspired by the Holy Spirit, promoted a government that looks like what we would call socialism today. If you want to join the community, turn over all you own to the leaders to be distributed fairly among the people. And don’t think you can lord it over others in this system. Every part is equal to every other part. Everyone’s contribution is important. As for honoring, the least are first and proud are last.
- The problem in the United States and in many other countries is that we fail to see the link between justice and peace. If God gets into systems at all, if he has a “will” about them, I believe this link is the key. People who are treated justly are likely to support, even cheer about, a system that is fair, that works for the good of all. The zealots, who prefer to be in charge of what kind of system they serve, won’t be able to rile people up. They are perceived as annoyances but people who are satisfied with their ruler or rulers will blow them off. The best guarantee against a violent revolution is justice for all.
- Since we began this thing we call “rule by the people” other nations decided to follow us. It was the “idea” of democracy that attracted them. Like here in our country, many of those democracies could only be gained if their monarchs were overthrown. But the structures they developed look different from the one we came up with. I maintain that some countries came up with systems that work better than ours. Some are worse, but let’s be honest and let’s be humble. Maybe some of their ideas work better for their people than ours does for us. Check out information about education, health, crime and violence, and poverty among nations. We don’t fare as well as most Americans dare to believe. I knew a woman once who was born in England. Listening to the political jargon during whatever campaign was occurring at that time with candidates suggesting that America was the best in the world, she said, “The best at what?”
- One more thing. Concerning the world’s view of the United States, I have to ask again the question Americans were asking after 9-11. “Why do they hate us so?” I find it hard to be proud of a nation that earns its respect with military might or financial power. I am tired of being a bully.
The other day, I asked myself whether there were any countries in the world whose people are okay letting other countries solve their own problems and that just focus on caring for their own, countries that hoped to teach by example, whose systems might be admired because of the happiness level of the people. Costa Rica, which does not even have an army, touts to be the happiest country in the world. According to Forbes, the top five happiest nations are Norway, Switzerland, Canada, Sweden and Australia. The United States ranks number 11. Not bad, but not the best. We really do have to stop the bragging. And we might consider opening ourselves up to trying out some of other nations’ experiments in democracy.