Every week you’ll find different types of posts here on the ABS blog. Today’s post is for individuals, to encourage personal reflection and Bible study.
Nobody enjoys talking about politics. Some people, myself included, pay a lot of attention because we find it important or interesting, but I’m not sure anybody likes it. Whatever philosophical or ideological background you come from, it’s probably fair to assume you think that the politics are kind of a mess.
Every so often, when I see a columnist talk about the mess of politics they’ll bring up the story of Cincinnatus. According to the story, Cincinnatus was a legendary Roman general who, after a long and successful career, retired to his farm in the country. After a few years, Rome found itself under assault from an invading army and their leaders were ill-equipped to lead them. In response, the people begged Cincinnatus to be their new emperor and gave him unheard of powers. Cincinnatus accepted the call and led the Roman people to victory. When he returned, many hoped he would become their emperor for life, but Cincinnatus refused and returned to his life as a farmer.
It’s unlikely that this actually happened, or at least that it happened in the cinematic fashion in which the story is told, but it’s a trope we see over and over again in pop culture: the Good King. It’s a central point in the recent movie Aquaman. It’s a major plot point in Black Panther. It’s one of the dominant themes in stories like The Lord of the Rings. The world is messed up, we’re told, and only a good king can put things right.
The problem is, it’s really hard to be a good king. Power is alluring, there are a lot of hard decisions and eventually things go wrong. In his work Politics, Aristotle argues that the best form of government is a monarchy with a good king, but follows it up by saying that the worst form of government is a monarchy with a bad one.
These ideas are always at the back of my mind when I hear Jesus referred to as “king” or “Lord.” Jesus is fulfilling a role that we crave. We want a good leader, we want someone who can make us feel safe, who can inspire us and lead us. We don’t think about a lot because kings and lords don’t play a big role in our social systems today, but it’s a profound statement about who Jesus is and the work he is doing on our behalf. Jesus is and always will be the elusive Good King.