“[The powers] will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.”
– Revelation 17:14
In my corner of Babylon, we expect to be heard. We appreciate our representative government, and we expect everyone’s voices to be heard – especially ours. We want to speak to the principal. We want to speak to the manager. We want to speak to your supervisor – yes, yours. We want to know how this decision was made. We sign the petition. We attend the protest. We write to the editor, or at least to the comments section. Some of us are mild and some of us are pushy, but either way, we will not be moved, and we will not be ignored. I say “we,” but I mean “I.” I will not be ignored.
I pity the people of Iran or North Korea, who are forced to bow to a supreme leader. I certainly don’t want one of my own. Our country was founded to liberate us – some of us, anyway – from the rule of unjust kings or of just kings. As our democratic ideals have grown in fullness, we have committed and recommitted to equality, to inalienable rights, to the pursuit of happiness for all. What does it mean to call Christ the “King of kings” for a people like this – a people committed to self-governance, committed to representation, committed to being heard? Haven’t we moved past such an antiquated and even barbaric concept as absolute power over other autonomous creatures? What can calling Christ “king” even mean?
It means everything.
If Christ is king, then I am not. My own desires are not the standard by which people or situations should be judged. I can be selfish or self-serving (sometimes). I can be ill-informed, reactive or unaware (often). Now I see “through a mirror darkly” – only on the other side of this life will I see in full. Even my most cherished opinions must be held lightly, merely provisional in light of that which is eternal.
If Christ is king, then Rachel Maddow is not – and neither is Sean Hannity. It’s not enough to listen to commentators I like and nod along. Everything that is said must be filtered through scripture, the witness of the saints and the unwavering authority of the Inward Christ. Is what is being said true? Is it charitable? How does the message reflect the fruits of the Spirit? Does it encourage me to be generous, loving and patient, or opinionated, argumentative, and cruel? Does it encourage understanding, self-sacrifice and empathy (yes, even for those people)? Or does it encourage hatred or contempt for others? It’s not enough to fact-check our sources, though truthfulness is important. Something can be factual and still toxic to our relationship with God and others, if it stimulates our fear or pride.
If Christ is king, my bank balance is not. It’s easy to be generous and broad-minded when you’re not afraid for your future or your family’s future. Once concern for survival is introduced, generosity looks like foolishness and greed looks like wisdom. There’s a temptation to horde, to lie, to cut corners. Like Ananias and Sapphira, we are tempted to hold our resources back from others, while pretending to be more righteous than we are. But if Christ is king, then his word is like gold – and he promised that God would provide. Fear of going without doesn’t excuse us from our calling as Christians.
If Christ is king, then love is not. I have a beautiful son, who I think is the funniest, smartest, most curious, sweetest, most lovable child on earth. There is so much that I would do for him. Sometimes, though, I need a reminder that I also have obligations to other people in my life. As easy as it is to forget, it is deeply immoral to put so much energy into loving a person, thing or ideal that you let it crowd out other parts of a rightly-ordered life – honoring God, diligence at work, duty to our family, friends and fellow believers, care for the poor – or lead you to do things that are otherwise immoral, such as mistreating other people’s property, treating any human being less than respectfully, or using our bodies in ways that do not honor our Creator. Such a love, if it is love, is fundamentally a form of idolatry. God is love, but love is not God. The distinction is essential.
I have increasingly seen in recent years the phrase “Kin-dom of God” (instead of the traditional “Kingdom of God”) used to refer to our right relationship to creation and to the Spirit. Kin-dom emphasizes relationship over power, love over authority. That emphasis – on connection, on fellowship, on oneness – is beautiful and important. Part of my love for my faith community, the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), is the holy anarchy that arises from our faith that God spreads spiritual gifts generously and freely among all who would receive them. It is such fertile ground for God to draw fruit from. But there is one authority that we must respect and one hierarchy that we must preserve: the sovereignty of God over all of creation and the authority of Christ over our whole lives. Without it, fertile ground for the Spirit quickly turns to salt and sand as we slide into wickedness, confusion, and futility.
As human beings, we are spiritual creatures. Something or someone will always be the focus of our thoughts and our energy and our devotion. We will have a king, whether we consciously choose one or not. So let’s have that king be Christ.