During the 17th and 18th centuries, many, if not most, people subscribed to the idea of the Divine Right of Kings. It should not surprise us that they did so.
You may recall the amazement of the apostles when Jesus told them that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter Heaven. How could that be, His listeners wondered? After all, God is the author of all good things. If a man is prosperous, or, for that matter, a king, he has been given great gifts by God. Would God bestow his largesse upon a sinner? That is inconceivable. So a rich man, or a king, must be someone who has found favor with God. He must be given deference; and if a king, he answers only to God. It’s quite logical—-as far as it goes.
People are not religious any more, so the idea that some people—kings, for instance-should be heeded because they have found favor with God seems as silly, to many, or at least as irrelevant, as the idea of God Himself! Today the people to whom we subject ourselves rule us not by virtue of birth, but ballot. Some people, though never anywhere near a majority, have decided that various people should control our lives and lay claim upon our property, and we accept that as readily as our distant forebears accepted the idea of the Divine Right of Kings.
The apostles evidently had forgotten, or ignored, the fact that great wealth, or power, is not necessarily a gift from God. The (justly) hated tax collectors, of whom Matthew was one, often became rich, collecting more tax than the Romans required, keeping the rest for themselves. Was their wealth a gift from God? Of course not. Or how about thieves, like the ones that robbed the poor fellow on his way to Jericho? If they became rich as a result of their thievery, did it mean they found favor with God? Hardly!
Did the kings who waded to the throne through the blood of their challengers expect God to shower them with blessings? Yet their subjects obeyed them nonetheless, and we, centuries later, similarly give ourselves over to the politicians who, by skullduggery or downright dishonesty, attain public office, calling themselves “public servants,” apparently unaffected by the irony of that designation. What have we learned over the years?
People who would scoff at the very idea of a divine right to rule take seriously indeed the “right” of assorted windbags and liars to rule them! A relative handful of people checked their names on a ballot, and the rest of us must somehow subject ourselves to them and their wants, which, written down, become “laws” for us to give the utmost reverence. It is hard to imagine a more absurd arrangement of society! The profane right of politicians has replaced the divine right of kings, and we haven’t noticed the similarity, and, amazingly, may think the change an improvement!
While God certainly has not blessed us with our politicians, publicans, and princes, He has given us His commandments, and the beatitudes. We could, adhering to them, live at peace with ourselves and our neighbors, keeping what is ours, and not seeking the domination or property of others. I realize it sounds preposterous to modern ears, but could it be any more preposterous than the system we now endure? Can there be any good reason why we allow others, not conspicuously intelligent or moral, to dominate us?