12 May 2010

From the Top Down

When things come from the top down, there is friction. We chafe at the thought of being told what to do.  When we were kids, we hated getting punished by our parents.  As adults, we scream bloody murder when our governing bodies assume more control.

There seems to be something deep and primal about this kind of rebellion.

When we see governments getting too big and controlling, we revolt. When we get punished, we get angry.

Could this be because we are hard-wired against oppression?  Could it be that freedom is so absolutely essential to our existence as humans that regardless of our spiritual state, we recognize oppression for the evil it is?

Or is this post an entirely made up Western conservative social construct?

I'm not so sure on the last part.

Look in the book of 1 Samuel.  In chapter 8, we see Israel wanting a king, a leader they could look up to like the nations around them.  They wanted national pride.  They wanted to be counted among the great nations of the world.

But the prophet Samuel gives them a warning, in verses 10-18.  Essentially, Samuel is saying that if Israel chooses a king, if they choose to have a worldly style of leadership, it will not go good with them.  The best that they have to offer of everything will be taken from them, and used for the leaders.

In short, Samuel says, "This is not going to be how you think it is.  It's going to be bad for you.  You will be forced to serve the king, in ways that you really don't want."

God was telling the Israelites that the authority they craved would not come from any king or government.  But then where does this authority come from?

Let's look in the book of Mark.

In chapter 10, Jesus has just finished telling some rich dude that he can't be rich and follow Jesus.  His disciples, on the other hand, probably weren't rich, but they did have lives and families that they had left to follow Christ.  At the end of his little explanation, he says this:  "But many who are first will be last, and the last first."(v31)

We can begin to see where Jesus says authority comes from.  If many of the last will be first, that means that the ones on the bottom will have the authority.

This is why communism failed as a governing system.

This is also why capitalism is failing as a governing system.

There is a sense that we have, deep down, that authority is not supposed to work like this.  It is supposed to work the opposite way: From the bottom up.

Think about the way the American Indians thought of themselves as belonging to the land. When the European settlers arrived, they thought of the land as belonging to them. This is not just a different way to see things, this is a complete reversal of a paradigm.  Instead of ordering their lives around their environment, they ordered their environment around their lives.  From the top down, not from the bottom up.

When the Israelites were wandering in the desert, before they arrived in Canaan, God appeared to them on Mt Sinai, and enacted a covenant with them.  He promised to protect them, and they promised to follow Him.

God was telling them even back then that they didn't need a king.  That kings were not the way He had ordered His creation.  Sure, they can be benevolent, merciful, absolutely wonderful human beings, wise and just in their leadership, but all the Israelites needed was to trust and follow God.  He would take care of the rest.

And now we're back in Mark, where in chapter 9 we find that the disciples were arguing about who was the greatest.  Jesus says that in order to be great, you need to become lesser(33-37).  If you want to lead people, you need to serve them.

And then again, later in chapter 10, two of His disciples had a request that had loud echoes of 1 Samuel.  They asked to sit beside Jesus in glory.

This sounds a lot like politics today, doesn't it?  At the time, some of the disciples thought that Jesus was going to become a great ruler, and finally kick the Romans out of Israel.  Naturally, since they were following Jesus from the beginning, they could expect a plum position in the new administration, right?

Wrong.  Jesus explained that the governments of this world lord it over them, just the same way that Samuel explained it to the Israelites.  But that's not the way Jesus' "government" would work.  Instead, Jesus again said that in order to become great, you must become less.

We get a glimpse of this in Acts 2, at the end of the chapter, where it says that the community that Jesus had started was selling their possessions and giving to anyone who needed something.  They were becoming less.  They were getting rid of stuff.  They were not seeking power.  But notice that the text doesn't say "...and so the disciples devised a hierarchy to place themselves in power so that they could ensure that those who came to Jesus would give away all their stuff."

The followers of Christ were not forced to sell their stuff and give the money to those who needed it.  It was not enforced from above, it was enacted from below.

They did it out of Love.  The were seeking to Love their neighbors.  I can't imagine much more loving that selling everything you have to give to those who have a need.

This is where real authority comes from:  Love.  That's why Paul said that the greatest of these is Love:  because of faith, hope, and love, love is what gives the other two things, and indeed all things, life.

Love breeds hope.

Hope leads to faith.

You can't legislate Love.  You can't make Love the law of the land.  Love cannot be enforced from the top down. It must be enacted from the bottom.


No comments: