We are hearing a lot about ‘sovereignty’ these days, especially in the current debate about Europe. We are particularly told by the ‘brexit’ campaign that leaving Europe will give us our ‘Sovereignty’ back as a nation. We will be able to make our own laws and do things the way we want them to be done. And yet sovereignty usually means the empowerment of the few, something that absolutely must change.
Yesterday was Good Friday. A day when we remember the cruel and appalling death of a man who claimed to be the Son of God. A man who touched the untouchables, healed the sick, gave dignity to prostitutes and embraced the dying. A man who set a trajectory for the equality of women and the rightful honour children should receive. A man who welcomed strangers and prioritised the poor. A man who dared to say to religious powers that God is not far away and unknowable; and to political leaders that top-down dominating hierarchy is only based on fear and control. A man who in essence gave us the foundations for true democracy (as Robert Schuman says), where we do not seek that which is best for ourselves, motivated by self-preservation; no, we learn to embrace the ‘other’ and show brotherly and sisterly love to all.
The cross is not about the need of an angry Sovereign God to be appeased, but rather the love of God utterly dismantling humanity’s understanding of what it means to be sovereign. So much therefore for ‘Sovereign decisions’ that disregard the need of our fellow humans. So much for the desire to be self-ruling and governing.
In our household today, we have been thinking together about all that Jesus took upon himself on the cross. Not just our own ‘Sovereign’ ways of behaving with a capital S, the thoughts and actions that demonstrate our own need to be in charge, but the things we do as humanity collectively that bring such destruction to ourselves, our relationships and the world we live in. We wrote many things down on scraps of paper and pinned them to a wooden cross (words like selfishness, greed, the arms trade, nuclear weapons, starvation in a world of plenty etc). And then we burnt the whole thing, representing to us the way that his love consumes and overcomes all of these things. It is finished. That old understanding of Sovereignty is done with. True sovereignty is to walk in the way of uncontrolling love (Jay Thomas Oord) and has nothing to do with violence, debt, control, power games or self-preservation.
When christians speak of the ‘Sovereignty of God’, we must be careful to understand what we mean. God is not sovereign in the way humanity classically attributes sovereignty. His sovereignty is of a completely different order. The word sovereign is unhelpful when thinking about God. It attributes all kinds of disturbing characteristics that do not belong to him at all. We must find better language that is not entangled with such confusion, or alternatively allow the word ‘sovereignty’ to be entirely redefined.
And so, when we want to make our own individual ‘sovereign’ decisions, or as a nation wish to do so collectively, we could perhaps think more carefully about what will happen when we act in a ‘sovereign’ dimension toward others….As english people, we are going to struggle with our own sense of sovereignty, because we have had the biggest empire in the world and have a long history of grand monarchy. At Easter, we could do worse than to reflect on the humility and grace of the cross and allow our hunger for autocracy to be utterly undone.