Every time I walked past my parents’ vast library, the spine of a certain book would catch my eye: Escape from Freedom by Erich Fromm. “Why would anyone want to escape from freedom?”, my inquisitive young mind would wonder. I finally asked my mom about it. She explained that the author – a psychologist – theorized that people don’t really want to be free. It is too scary for them. So they escape freedom by putting themselves under the authority of another. That way they no longer have to take responsibility for their lives. She said individuals do it and sometimes whole nations do it. Apparently even trees do it.
Have you read the parable in Judges 9? One day the trees went out to anoint a king for themselves. They said to the olive tree, “Be our king.” But the olive tree had a good thing going with its oil production. It declined, saying, “Why would I give all this up to hold sway over you?”
Next they approached the fig tree, “Come be our king.” But the fig tree replied, “I’m making some good fruit here. Why would I give up such a sweet gig to hold sway over you?”
The trees approached a vine, “Come and be our king.” But the vine answered, “Sorry, but my wine cheers people up. I would rather be productive than hold sway over you.”
Desperate, all the trees pleaded with the thornbush, “Come and be our king.” “Sure”, said the thornbush, “I’ve got nothing better to do. If you really want me to be your king then come and take refuge in my prickly, gnarly shade.”
It seems we would rather have a bad king then no king at all. Samuel knew this all too well (1 Samuel 8):
When Samuel was old and getting ready to retire, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders. But his sons were corrupt and they perverted justice. So the elders met with Samuel and said, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”
Samuel was no doubt heartbroken. Are my sons really that lame? Was my leadership that weak? Prophets and judges have always lead Israel, will God go for this? Am I a big, fat failure?
Samuel prayed. The Lord answered: “It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. Listen to them, but warn them solemnly and let them know what will happen.
Samuel returned to the elders: “God said you can have a king, if you really want one, but just so you know: He will draft your sons into his military and they will have to run in front of his chariots. He will force others to plow his ground and reap his harvest. He will take your daughters to serve him as cooks and bakers and perfumers. He will take your best fields, groves and vineyards and give them to his political cronies. He’ll take all your best stuff for his personal use. Eventually you will become his slaves and, when that day comes, you will cry out for relief. But the Lord won’t be listening.”
The people did not care. They wanted what they wanted. So they ignored the warning. “We want a king over us! We want to be like everyone else! We want someone to lead us and fight our battles for us!”
Samuel reported back to the Lord, who said, “Give them a king.” And if you know anything about the history of Israel, then you know that everything the Lord warned would happen, did.
Now the question is, did a portion of the church make Paul our king? Jesus came to bring freedom from the heavy burden imposed by the Pharisees. Crowds of people followed Him. They were amazed by the things He said, things they had never heard before. But when He left us to return to heaven, did we seek to replace Him? Do we prefer a king with skin on? One who will provide concrete rules, guidelines and strict doctrinal truths by which we can measure our behavior and judge the behavior of others?
Following the letter of strict doctrinal law, difficult and tempting as it is, is much easier than following the Spirit of freedom and Love. Jesus said He would build His church upon Peter’s understanding of who He is. But my church seems to have built itself upon the manual provided by Paul. How about yours? Upon whom/what is your church built?
Fellow thinkers, what do you say? Catholics? Lutherans? Presbyterians? Baptists?Charismatics? I’m hoping to hear from every denomination of believer.
© The Reluctant Baptist, 2014