Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Saturday, January 09, 2010

No Theocracy

Driving home yesterday I saw a bumper sticker that said “No Theocracy”. It is kind of interesting to consider that idea. After all the two main religions that might have had Theocracies are Christianity and Islam. Both of those religions hold that their God is loving, in Christianity “God is love” in Islam “Allah is merciful” both are said to be merciful and forgiving and seeking repentance from humans. So why is the idea of no theocracy so popular?

For those of us in the Western world if we were asked to name some theocracies from history there are likely only three that we could name. The first because of Islamic turmoil in the world would be Islamic nations that held to or still hold to Sharia Law. The second would be the Roman Catholic Churches dominance in the Middle Ages. A time when such things as church Inquisitions, burning heretics and condemning certain areas of scientific thinking took place. The final and perhaps the first thing some would think of is the theocracy of ancient Israel recounted in the Old Testament Bible.

Merely reflecting on the history of theocracy answers our question pretty well. Theocracy is a word first popularized by Josephus:

“a word first used by Josephus to denote that the Jews were under the direct government of God himself. The nation was in all things subject to the will of their invisible King. All the people were the servants of Jehovah, who ruled over their public and private affairs, communicating to them his will through the medium of the prophets. They were the subjects of a heavenly, not of an earthly, king. They were Jehovah's own subjects, ruled directly by him (comp. 1 Sam. 8:6-9).

The word though is more properly understood as:

1. a form of government in which God or a deity is recognized as the supreme civil ruler, the God's or deity's laws being interpreted by the ecclesiastical authorities.

2. a system of government by priests claiming a divine commission.

The reality it seems, is that the nations were never really run by God, they were run by people who claimed to either speak for God or claimed to receive their instructions from God. Because these nations were never really ruled by God they never really presented an attractive nation or government to the rest of the world. Few modern people who read their history will say, “I sure wish I could have lived then”.

What I often find interesting is how people knowing full well the atrocities that occurred within the theocracy of ancient Israel think that those atrocities were the result of God. Rather than the results of those people speaking for God; or perhaps they were recorded as the people, those religious authorities wanted, attributing to God things that God would actually be very opposed to.

For whatever reasons they assumed that something is what God wanted to happen whether a result of a battle or an earthquake or some other natural occurrence. It is not hard to see such things; certainly other nation’s religious leaders were behaving in similar ways. It has been a trend in all other examples of theocracy we can think of, leaders doing what they want and attributing it to God, so perhaps it is something to consider when we read the stories in the Old Testament. We can still learn lessons from such things and isn’t that what the main functions of the Bible is, to teach us, to lead us to Christ who shows us the character of God. If that character does not match the God of the theocracy…perhaps it is because as is often the case someone was usurping the role of God and not doing too good a job of it.

So I say a hardy amen to “No Theocracy” at least until we see God face to face, because those middle men and women, those prophets, priests and kings have done a terrible job of revealing an accurate picture of God. Maybe for some it is the best they could do, but for many it is simply the corrupting nature of power. We therefore have to be a bit more careful before repeating everything as true just because it was a part of our religious tradition.

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