The passage in 1 Samuel 8 where Israel asks for a king is a pivotal point in the biblical narrative. It recalls another pivotal passage where the people ask Moses to go up the mountain in their stead to hear the voice of God with all that accompanies it.
Both represent our inclination to engage surrogates. Rather than immediate experience we prefer reported experience. Rather than immediate living, we prefer dispensed living. Rather than live life, we prefer watching it. Rather than enjoy, appreciate and embrace our condition, we prefer comparing and competing with others.
The biblical stories consistently intimate a few reasons:
- Fear: We are afraid of direct experience, especially of the Unknown. We tremble in the face of Uncertainty and crumble under the weight of Mystery. We feel safer living a filtered life, an edited life, a sheltered life.
- Security: We would rather give up all kinds of freedoms than be exposed to risk. The ramifications of 9/11 is a case in point.
- Ambition: Israel wasn’t happy living quietly under the occasional guidance of the old prophet Samuel. They wanted to be like other nations, primarily in their ability to make war, which required a leader, a king.
The church has something to learn from this. Institutions like the church loves kings, and there are plenty of people who will step up to the task. We are afraid to experience the Unknown directly so we hire surrogates to experience it for us, then report to us their experiences and perhaps guide some of us who are willing to dabble in it experimentally. And churches, I’ve found, cannot resist comparing themselves to others and employing strategies to measure up to their competitors, even outside the church circle.