Yesterday, as I write this, a deacon from our local congregation gave a discussion of unity and oneness in the Bible in a way that helped, at least to me, to bring out a great deal of the nature of the political philosophy of the Bible. As we might expect if we look at the Bible’s writing on other subjects, we do not find the political philosophy of the Bible expressed in a theoretical fashion as is frequently the case when we read political philosophy, but rather we see the political philosophy of the Bible expressed in statements of biblical law as well as indirectly in the Bible’s focus on other subjects as well as the relationships between people and God and people and each other. As the speaker seems to have intuitively understood, the political philosophy of the Bible is revealed in what the Bible says about other subjects. What I wish to do, then, in this series of posts, is to discuss the Bible’s political philosophy by focusing on what the Bible says about the relationship between God the Father and Jesus Christ, and about how it is that humanity is connected to God and each other. But first, I would like to begin with a bit of a digression.
More than a decade ago, a friend and I wrote a series of short novels about a dark alternate universe of a text-based role playing game that we had started to develop when I was barely a teenager and played for many years. The politics of this particular series focused on two characters, one of them transparently based on my friend and the other equally transparently based on myself. The two characters had the title of emperor and directrix, and they related to each other in a way that came straight out of geometry. The parabola is a line that is defined by equidistance from a focus, a point on a cartesian graph, and a directrix, a straight line on that same graph. The title of directrix, unsurprisingly, was taken directly from this mathematical phenomenon, even if it is a title that is quite unfamiliar to many people and it is likely that few readers understood what was being said.
It is equally likely that few readers understood the political system that was being implied by this conception of the universe. The emperor served as the focus in the sense that the emperor was the ceremonial head of the empire but was not someone who was actively involved with very many people within his empire. It was the active directrix who managed to keep the empire running and who interacted with lesser people whose presence might endanger and defile the honor provided to the emperor. Those who are aware of the political philosophy of the Middle East and East Asia might find much that is familiar about such a conception of how an empire works. During the Macedonian dynasty of the Byzantine Empire, there was a tendency for ceremonial emperors who were born in the purple to have co-emperors who were military dictators. Similarly, such empires as the Ottoman Empire, the Abassid Caliphate, and long stretches of Japanese history had cases where a ceremonial emperor was served by a figure who was variously called a (grand) vizir or shogun who represented the active and military force that kept an empire together while the emperor provided the religious and cultural legitimacy that made an empire worth preserving.
Any human imitation of the relationship between God the Father and Jesus Christ is going to fall short both because of our limited knowledge of the interaction between the two in heaven while we remain on earth except through our understanding of revealed scripture, and because of our own flaws and shortcomings in understanding ourselves as well as following God’s ways. As we imperfectly understand God and imperfectly serve Him, we cannot expect that we should be able to properly conceive of the political philosophy of the Bible, seeing as it springs from the behavior and attitudes of God and Jesus Christ towards each other and towards us. Even given those imperfections, though, we can be subtle readers of the scripture and see how it is that political philosophy is indirectly discussed by the Bible while other things are being discussed. In particular, we may see that the political philosophy of the Bible is implicitly but consistently dealt with in the Bible’s vertical and horizontal directions, or, to phrase it more biblically, in how the Bible deals with questions of subordination, hierarchy, and authority on the one hand and on matters of love, unity, and oneness on the other. And it is to these questions that we will now turn.