Should you build me a house to dwell in?

Advent Reflection by Rhett Engelking, Director of Franciscan Earth Corps

This reflection was originally posted in our December 15th newsletter

In the first passage of Sunday’s readings, King David was finally settling into a time of peace and political power, when it ultimately occurs to him to make a space to house God. There is an implicit assumption on David’s part that all of God can be compartmentalized along with the Ten Commandments in the Ark of the Covenant. In this seemingly benign gesture, David reveals that God represents little more than a idol to been enshrined during peacetime. This subtle allegory conveys what psychologists have called ‘the paradox of power,’ namely: the very traits that helped leaders accumulate control in the first place all but disappear once they rise to power. Far from a malicious inclination of Machiavellian leaders, the paradox of power in this scriptural sense occurs when we compartmentalize God in our minds whenever we choose to explore what curious things we can do with the power that God has given us. When our Christian behavior creeps out only on Sundays at the prescribed time, we can also see how we even use Church as a storage house for God while we attend to more important matters all by ourselves.

Since America’s founding, the desire to separate God from matters of political power has sometimes seemed to be quite the prudent decision to make. When the Constitutional Convention convened to draft a document that established the houses and seats of power, the drafters thought it prudent to leave out all references to God (except perhaps in the Signatory section). Given the history of oppressive state religion and divergent opinions on the nature of God, the thought may have been that theological differences might impede truly democratic rule. It was only after the houses of power were established that Thomas Jefferson drafted a Bill of Rights that created in its opening lines, a wall of separation between Church and State to insure freedom of religion for individuals and institutions and prevent the direct corruption of religious messages by state institutions. The wall has protected the autonomy of religious bodies (a good thing), but it has also helped foster a troubling philosophical notion that “religion and politics shall not mix” or even that “God has no home in politics.” Resolving where the Reign of God and the Rule of Law converge has always proved to be a difficult task.

Thomas Jefferson (in Paris at the time) described the Convention as “really an assembly of demi-gods.” This acknowledgement of the type of power wielded by these men should not be disregarded. The Roman Senate, for example, is believed to have officially ordained Julius Caesar a demi-god after his victory at Thapsus. Demi-god is how John Milton characterized the angels and how the Collyridians understood the virgin mother of Jesus. While it has been deemed heretical to worship individuals like Mary as God, we should not throw the baby out with the heretical bath water. The message God delivers to King David is for servant david to remember where the power of righteousness originated. Our legislators need to be reminded that saying “Let it be done…according to your word” is not the same thing as abridging the separation of Church and State. Just as God was with David wherever he went, we can trust that every legislator who steps into a house of Congress can have a clear line to the Reign of God. According to Jefferson, the wall separating Church and State should never separate an individual from a freedom of conscience. Conscience is the only tool a leader has to counteract the paradox of power, and so as faithful citizens praying for God’s will to be done on Earth as it is in Heaven, our most powerful hope lies in awakening the consciences of our leaders.

Rhett Engelking 

Director of Franciscan Earth Corps

Published in: on December 16, 2014 at 12:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

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