“Gondor has no king. Gondor needs no king.” – Boromir of Gondor
This statement was made in pride, but it was made with a people in mind who considered themselves so much a people of rich culture and law that they needed no supreme leader.
The driving lore of Tolkein’s country was that a good king would return to lead the people.
In the first chapter of The Hobbit, Thorin talks about what a dragon is. He describes dragons as creatures that take everything of value that others produce and heap it up under themselves as nothing but a bed to lay on. He says they can’t use one piece of it, nor fix one scale of armor, nor value a beautiful work of art over a shoddy trinket. They are the devourers and hoarders of the work of the hands of others. That is, they are what the prophet Samuel warned the Israelites a king would become. Tolkein understood the mythology of kings- everything they could be and the extent to which they could be corrupted and devour everything they were meant to protect.
In the Bible, we see twin themes of God raising up good kings and of a people who were to need no king. God’s people were originally designed to have no human king, to have God as their king directly. His rule came through faith and law, and it was renewed by the prophets, moral judges and voices of renewal. The Israelites were to be a people of the law who trusted God. A good people who obey a just law need no king. God supplied law and even leaders to judge disputes about the law, as well as prophets to preach the law so the people wouldn’t forget it. But from the beginning, God knew it wouldn’t be enough. In truth, there should have been no human king. The fact is, though, that people will always ask for one. And so, the same law that told them not to have a king also regulated the role of king (see Deuteronomy 17:16-19).
1. They are not to accumulate gold or women for themselves.
2. They are not to lead the people back into slavery.
3. They are to revere the Lord and obey the law.
Not exactly what you think of when you think of a king is it?
The leaders of the people were the prophets and the priests, people who could tell the nation what was right and wrong and who could connect them with God’s truth. They did not, however, have the executive power to make them obey. The people were to obey it on their own spontaneously, even in punishing the evildoer or in gathering to fight for their survival. This was the original design, a good people of law that have no need of formal and centralized government.
When the people rejected this, God warned them about the results of giving up the freedom of being a people of clear and unchanging law based in moral truths, in order to become a people who are protected by a centralized authority. This famous passage is found in 1 Samuel 8. Before God answers his people’s demand for a king, he commands the prophet Samuel to tell them why this is a terrible idea.
He will take the best of everything that belongs to you. He will become corrupt and please only himself. He will take the best of your achievements, the best of your goods, the best of your produce, even the best of your sons and daughters for himself. You will make a king to protect yourselves, but who will protect you from him?
To put it in the famous words of the American founding fathers, he who gives up liberty for security deserves neither. There is no substitute for good men and a culture that requires individual and public-spirited morality and justice. This is the fundamental human problem with government: no government is good enough to lead an irresponsible and wicked people, and any government is good enough to lead a good and responsible people.
The social problem of politics is that not only do people want to avoid individual morality, they also wish to avoid individual public responsibility. For the individualist, this means a small government that affects very little. For the socialist, this means a large central government that affects everything. The one avoids responsibility by making the government nothing, the other by making the government everything.
This is the corporate picture of what is wrong with the world. Gondor does need a king, but most kings are not Aragorn. They become Smaug, the typical Dragon, that heaps up the productivity of all men in a pile of accumulation to be owned but never used, possessed but never appreciated, existing as goods but never doing good.
When we as Christians forget this, it not only makes us politically naïve, it makes us people who are either tricked by lesser solutions than Jesus or seduced by visions of greater utopian solutions than are possible, both of which have colossal consequences.
Perhaps the most fundamental consequence of this error is that when our view of sin is too small, so will be our view of the Savior, and we’ll never see exactly how astoundingly profound it really is that he will someday come as the true and perfect King.