Friday, 18 May 2012

The Desire of the Nations

Oliver O'Donovan is a fine intellect but I don't think he could write something simple to save his life. Or maybe it is just the books of his I have read.

'The Desire of the Nations' is an exercise in political theology. He moves swiftly to the issue of authority which he says is 'the objective correlate of freedom' and which evokes free action, unlike mere power or force. Human authority is both authorised and, therefore, authoritative. A theological study of authority must begin with the kingdom of God and to understand that we need to understand politics and Israel - including understanding Israel for today.

Did Israel crying 'the Lord is King' mean that as a spiritual or political reality ? What do those words mean? What does 'my kingdom is not of this world' mean? So the scene is set.

Yhwh's kingship is established in four realities: (i)victorious deliverance of his people (salvation); (ii)justice - bringing right and wrong to light; (iii)the possession of a community - his people (and Yhwh as his people's possession) - which was expressed in the special relationship between the people and the land. These three points reveal the nature of political authority (see thesis '1' below). Here lies the continuity between Israel and the western tradition.

(iv)Then there is praise - which does not contribute to authority but responds to it, though it is through his people's praise (proper acknowledgement) that God's rule takes effect. There is an act of worship at the heart of every political society. State authority (idolatry) begins when people forget who gives the authority. See thesis '3' below.

Six theses perhaps unfold his thinking well enough:

1. Political authority arises where power, the execution of right and the perpetuation of tradition are assured together in one co-ordinated agency.
2. That any regime should actually come to hold authority and should continue to hold it is a work of divine providence in history, not a mere accomplishment of the human task of political service.
3. In acknowledging political authority society proves its political identity.
4. The authority of a human regime mediates divine authority in a unitary structure but is subject to the authority of law within the community, which bears independent witness to the divine command.
5. The appropriate unifying element in international order is law rather than government.
6. The conscience of the individual members of a community is a repository of the moral understanding which shaped it, and may serve to perpetuate it in a crisis of collapsing morale or institution.

Mediators (kings, priests) are there to mediate God's authority - in salvation, justice and possession / tradition. See thesis 4 above. But international rule is bestial - empire in Scripture is anti God - God will not provide a world ruler - this is anti-Christian. See thesis '5'. International order is by law, which is often identified as Natural Law.

Meanwhile individualism grew in importance but is not the radical individualism of today but serves to preserve the faith in the community - the new covenant. The individual is always seen in the context of community. See thesis '6'.

Well,that brings us to the end of chapter 2...

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