Sunday, November 27, 2016

A Type of Thrones

Martin's mental image of the Iron Throne
is that it sits asymmetrically, and that the
one seated on it is at least ten feet high. 
Thrones mean power and position. In contemporary culture, there is no throne more recognizable than the Iron Throne from George R.R. Martin's book series A Song of Fire and Ice, popularized by HBO's televised adaptation, Game of Thrones. (Though I'm a huge fan of good fictional fantasy, I decided not to watch the show due to the kinds content they've chosen to include.) In fact, it's clear that the typical representation of the Iron Throne is actually much smaller than what Martin had envisioned in his head. The idea is that the Throne was made by a conquering king, created with a thousand swords surrendered by his enemies. Here is how one character describes the throne in A Storm of Swords:
Have you ever seen the Iron Throne? The barbs along the back, the ribbons of twisted steel, the jagged ends of swords and knives all tangled up and melted? It is not a comfortable seat, ser. Aerys cut himself so often men took to calling him King Scab, and Maegor the Cruel was murdered in that chair. By that chair, to hear some tell it. It is not a seat where a man can rest at ease. Ofttimes I wonder why my brothers wanted it so desperately.
This particular throne is a symbol of conquest, cruelty, and dominance. The one who occupies it has obtained it by ugly displays of power and treachery.

There is an uncomfortably easy connection between power and brutality, and this connection is not limited to fiction. When Saddam Hussein became president of Iraq in July 1979, within one week, he called out an assembly of the Ba'ath Party, his political enemies. In the meeting, a list of 68 names were read aloud, and all of them were arrested and removed from the room. All 68 were found guilty of treason, and 22 were sentenced to death. By August 1979, hundreds of his political foes had been executed. Whatever type of throne he sat upon, his power represented brutality, bloodshed, and ruthlessness.

In any tension between people and the one who rules them, the question often arises about the source of a person's power. "Who put you in charge?" It isn't uncommon for people to mutter under their breath about their superiors' use and misuse of rank and position. We speak this way frequently about our politicians, our police officers, and even about a wide array of people who are gatekeepers to whatever thing that we happen to want right now. 

It is our typical hangups about power and abuse that made a verse in Psalm 22 catch my attention:
Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our fathers trusted; they trusted and you delivered them. To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame. (Proverbs 22:3-5)
Granted, there is plenty of language in Scripture about God conquering his enemies, but it is God's throne here that I find captivating: God sits enthroned on the praises of his people. There is an extent to which people can say, "Well, it's God, and if God says he's the King, there's nothing you can do to stop him." But God does not sit on a throne of swords or in a position that he has created through terror and treachery.

As the psalmist alludes to, God's people praise him because of the ways he's taken care of us. We've relied on God and found him to be trustworthy. We've been in situations too dense for us to navigate, and he has rescued us and blessed us. The end result of following God is that we've been honored, and not put to shame. The throne God occupies is made of the great praises we can offer because of what he's done for us. It is a reign of peace, blessing, and compassion. God will sit on a throne of well-deserved praise, and it his intention to earn it--not to force it--through the way he cares for us.

Each of us occupies some type of position in life that we have created for ourselves. Some do obtain their statuses in life through shrewdness and manipulation, but these positions have limited staying power. The kind of position we should desire in this life comes from what we sow in the lives of others, and it is not a respect that can be demanded. Precisely the opposite. To be known as a person of integrity. To be trusted as a person of character. To be remembered as a person of kindness and courage. These are powerful positions to occupy, yet they come through the path of service and humility. We shouldn't do good only when we believe we are likely to receive praise, but this should not hinder us from always striving to do things that are praiseworthy.

When it's all said and done, a throne of praise is better than a throne of iron any day.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:3-8)

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