Sovereignty. What is it? How do we establish it, and what gives one sovereignty?
After making an admittedly brief study of kings and queens down the ages, I have noticed a trend which separates the great from the good, and the good from the awful. And there are some who are sometimes good and sometimes bad. A good example of that would be King John of England.
In many ways he was the ideal king. He went around the country, setting up special courts and hearing the cases the commoners brought before him.
He also usurped his brother’s crown and murdered a lot of people in rather unpleasant ways. Amongst these was Prince Arthur, his nephew and heir to the crown. He disappeared and was later found dead, with John being suspected, but no evidence pointing his way. His sovereignty was questionable.
Queen Victoria, on the other hand, had no such problems. She was popular and her word was law, within the dictates of Parliament and her duties as Queen. Her sovereignty, however, was not total.
The closest we can imagine in terms of sovereignty amongst more modern rulers, would be Louis XIV, the Sun King, who ruled for seventy-two years, the longest ever reigning European monarch. Under his kingship, France became the most powerful country in Europe, with his putting an end to feudalism and modernising the country. The military flourished as, strangely enough, did the fine arts. Louis believed in the divine right of kings and that he was the sun and his courtiers the planets.
There have, however, only been two men in history who could claim absolute sovereignty: Nebuchadnezzar and Genghis Khan.
They ruled absolutely, their word was law, and they neither asked for, nor received advice. They literally owned their subjects and, while Nebuchadnezzar was relatively benign as a ruler, even over his captive foes, he would not hesitate for a moment to have someone put to death. He, quite literally, owned them in the same way one would a slave.
Genghis Khan ruled the greatest land empire ever seen: however he was anything but benign. He famously built a column when a city resisted him, and had all the survivors mortared into place in the pillar, one layer of bodies over another. He did not stand for resistance of any sort and completely obliterated Baghdad, tearing up the very foundations, so that the original city would never be found again.
These two men were the only men in history, as far as I can ascertain, who were absolutely sovereign.
Now I’ve said before that God is sovereign, and it’s been questioned, most notably by Rodin, what I mean by that. The preamble to this little article should give some indication of what that means.
As Luke wrote in the Acts of the Apostles, ‘In Him we live and move and have our being.’ I am obviously writing from a Christian standpoint and, as such believe that all of our being is dependent on God, for He made us, He is our sovereign and our Judge. He is our Friend if we so choose, but we have to choose, He cannot do it for us.
So let us take Nebuchadnezzar as an example. If he had chosen you for friendship, and made a point of spending time with you, but you constantly made excuses not to be with him, or go so far as defy him and refuse to spend time with him, what do you think his response would have been?
Let us go one step further and say he found out you were consorting with his enemies: what then?
Of course, there’s not a man alive who would do something like that; we’re not that stupid. We would have seen what he was capable of, and there would be constant reminders of his power around us at all times.
Yet one man did: Daniel. He defied him by refusing to bow before his statue. As later did Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. And they were well aware of the penalty for doing so.
So nations and people who defy God eventually find out that they have exhausted His patience, and He destroys them. Either supernaturally, as he did with the cities on the plain, or by natural means, using people, such as the Israelites or even against Israel, using Assyria or Babylon.
God is patient and long-suffering and is willing that none should perish, but will destroy those who constantly abuse His mercy. But this is not how He operates today. He sent Jesus as a scapegoat, to take our sins upon Himself, but He will destroy you in the end if you remain rebellious, because He is sovereign, and will not be defied.
God owns us, body and soul, and whether or not you believe in Him, it remains a fact.
Just as I cannot produce proof that this God exists, it is impossible to prove He doesn’t. There is only one way it can be proven, and that is to place your life in His hands.
Therein lies a problem: we crave our own sovereignty too much. We believe that freedom means loosing of all bonds, when nothing could be further from the truth. Total freedom, of the kind we imagine when we think of freedom, is impossible, for that carries with it no responsibility. And that kind of freedom is the so-called freedom we have in South Africa today.
No man is an island, and we all owe our neighbours something. If we live a life free of restraint, it has to be free of moral restraint as well, and from a brief reading of history, we know where that ends. We can set ourselves adrift from society at large and know total freedom without responsibility, but we also forfeit the benefits of civilisation if we do. Freedom always comes at a price, and most of us have never had to pay that price.
So the question is, can we be sovereign, rulers of our own destinies, or is that destiny at least partly, in the hands of others? It has to be, by the very nature of our existence. We rely on others for the money we earn, the water we drink, the food we eat and the enjoyment of life. For what is life if there is no-one with which to share it? We crave human companionship and, as such are debtors, in part, to the very people we cherish.
So the reality is, we cannot be sovereign, as much as we’d like to be.
There is only one Person who can be Sovereign, and is. God owes nothing, is beholden to no-one and has absolute freedom without moral restraint, because He set the morals in the first place. He craves our companionship enough to have sacrificed His son, but is not in anyway beholden to us. At the end of the day we will all face Him, and count the cost of our attempts at sovereignty.
And the price will be higher than we can imagine.