Friday, May 08, 2015

The king's heart

The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will. Proverbs 21:1

Some years ago I read an interview with Justice Anthony Kennedy. Or perhaps it was commentary on an interview with Anthony Kennedy. I remember that Kennedy said in the interview something to the effect that the Supreme Court says that this or that is what the Constitution means...but one can't really be sure. He seemed a bit wry about it all. The commentator mused, drily, "Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown."

That stuck with me as an apt comment. Here was Kennedy, with his utterly chaotic, one might say nonexistent, jurisprudential theory, more or less admitting that he has all this power and doesn't know what the heck he's doing. The commentator's point was that a Supreme Court justice isn't supposed to be a king and that Kennedy was actually seeking sympathy for the weight of a responsibility he shouldn't have at all--the responsibility of making law by his own will and whim. Kennedy makes these needless complications for himself because he has no coherent notion of what it means to interpret an existing document in an historically responsible manner. Or, perhaps more bluntly, he doesn't care about that boring stuff. He cares about vaguer things like looking independent, but at the same time progressive, striking a pose, moving with the times, but not too fast...

Well, we Americans thought that, by setting up a constitutional republic of checks and balances with strictly limited powers we were done with kings. That was the plan, anyway. Wise old Benjamin Franklin said it best: "A republic, if you can keep it."

We couldn't.

So now we have kings again. Or perhaps more precisely, a small oligarchy of nine men and women with the untoward power to make laws for the entire country at, in effect, their own pleasure. All they need is the pretext of a case before them to begin telling us all about the mystery of life and all the rights of man and what groupings and rules are rational and irrational, what laws we must have and must not have. A few of them actually voluntarily submit themselves, or attempt to submit themselves, to a coherent body of law lying outside themselves and their own will and desire. These are called, perversely, "conservatives," as though theirs, the only non-partisan position, were narrowly partisan. They are not acting as kings, but that is because they choose not to do so.

In reflecting on this recently I was struck by one small silver lining in the dark, dark cloud of judicial usurpation and tyranny in America: We Christians can once more claim Proverbs 21:1, quoted above. Indeed, we are forced to do so. No longer can we say, "That doesn't apply to us. We don't have kings in our country. We are ruled by a government of laws, not of men." Believe me, in the U.S.A. in 2015 we are ruled by men, in a strict and uncomfortably literal sense of the phrase. Not only Supreme Court justices but also IRS agents, regulatory inspectors, rogue prosecutors (as in Wisconsin), lawless policemen, bullying TSA agents, family law judges, and more.

So as we live our daily lives (turn in your taxes, pray for your loved ones when they travel by airplane, be nice to the policeman who stops you and gives you a ticket...) and as we await the SCOTUS decision on marriage, we are forced to remember that there is One in whose hand is the heart of the king. Even, perhaps especially, the wicked king, the unjust judge. We don't know if God will make the king do what is right and just. Often God doesn't. But our times are in his hand, and so we learn a new humility. We learn that government can do grave harm whatever form it originally started out with, and that all of us mere individuals have great need of the One who is no respecter of persons. Let us pray that he will turn the hard heart of the king as the rivers of water, and heal our land.


steve said...

There's the oft-quoted line about how power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Among other things, that makes power a test of character. Many people can't be trusted with power. Give them power, and they can't resist the temptation to abuse their authority.

Lydia McGrew said...

Hence my overwhelming respect for Antonin Scalia. Though I can think of cases in which I have disagreed with his opinion (e.g., civil asset forfeiture) I cannot think of a single case in which I had reason to believe that he abused his power to serve a partisan end or his own ends.