…And absolute power corrupts absolutely.
We oftentimes forget the second half of that aphorism. I don’t know where the phrase originated (though this seems fairly credible), but it certainly rings true in history and in current events.
I’m thinking about all this because I’m reading through 1 Kings right now in my Bible reading plan. Saul started out as a good king, but sort of lost it after David was anointed. David was, for the most part, a good king. He had his failures (the Bathsheba incident most notably, but he was also apparently not a very good father), but was overall still the only person recorded in scripture as “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22). After David, Solomon was a pretty good king, too, but screwed up late in life by allowing his many foreign wives to sway his worship towards false gods.
But after these three anointed, God-chosen leaders, things really fall apart for Israel. Following Solomon’s reign, the nation divided into two kingdoms – Judah in the south and Israel in the north. Once the split happened, there were 20 kings in Judah, and 19 in Israel before the entire nation was conquered by Babylon. Of the 20 kings in Judah, only 8 are recorded as being “righteous”. Of Israel’s 19 kings, not even one.
After Solomon, God’s chosen leader for his people was Jeroboam, who ruled over all the Israelites except two tribes in the south. You would think that being the “chosen one” would be enough to give a person some security, but we see very early on in Jeroboam’s rule that this is not the case. Within the first few months of his reign (this comes from 1 Kings 12:26-33), he begins to worry that when the people go to Jerusalem (which was within the kingdom of Judah) to offer sacrifices, that they will be swayed to support Rehoboam and turn on him. So his solution is to create two golden calves and tell the Israelites to worship them as the gods who brought them out of Egypt. (You can see, by the way, from how often God refers to himself as ‘the God who brought you out of Egypt’ to the Israelites that this is kind of a touchy subject for him. I think this was a huge mistake on Jeroboam’s part…)
From that moment on, as I wrote earlier, not even one of the kings in the northern kingdom of Israel is considered righteous before God. They had become completely corrupt, to say it another way.
What is it about power that corrupts our minds and wills so completely? Certainly there must be people in positions of leadership and authority in our governments, businesses, and even our families and homes. But why does that power and authority almost invariably lead us to oppress, abuse, exploit, and otherwise mistreat those who are not in authority?
I can only chalk it up to our sinful, fallen nature. Original sin, and indeed the core of every sin, is about us wanting to supplant the role of God in our lives with our own selves. We were created to live in obedient community with God himself in his great kingdom, yet something within us continues to tell us that we will be better off if we make ourselves the ruler of our own private, smaller, infinitely lesser kingdom.
I feel like I’m rambling here, so I guess I’ll just sum it up by saying that I hope we (humanity, our culture in particular) can get a hold on our runaway desire to be in the spotlight at the center of attention. It manifests itself in some of the most awful ways, and I believe that unless it is checked, it will eventually lead to our downfall.
Oh well… It’s a gray, rainy-looking day outside, so maybe that’s why I’m so pensive today. Sorry if this post was kind of a downer…