The last of the “divine” kings fell on New Year’s Day, 1946, when Japanese emperor Hirohito issued the Humanity Declaration: “The ties between us and our people…are not predicated on the false conception that the emperor is divine.” The god-kings of the ancient world are dead, and they’re never coming back. As the world came to know the true divine Man, He made the fake ones a laughingstock.
This was not a quick or painless process. The pretenders objected mightily to being exposed. Many Christian martyrs all over the world reinforced their testimony with their very lives, but their stubborn witness bore fruit. At the epicenter in the Roman Empire, it only took a few centuries. Suddenly there were no more “divine” emperors, and in their place rose a new breed of ruler. These rulers believed God had made them uniquely fit to rule–they called it “the divine right of kings”–which sounds awful, but remember what it replaced. A king that believes himself appointed by Jesus and answerable to Jesus is a huge improvement over a king who thinks he is God. All of a sudden, the pope could–and sometimes did–excommunicate the emperor for being insufficiently like Jesus. That bred healthy conflict between church and state, and out of those healthy conflicts, Europe was born.
But it was still led by an aristocracy. The power of the aristocracy is the power of contempt: the ability to look down on the common rabble. The aristocracy did not fall until a new idea entered Europe’s consciousness. The theological term is “justification by faith,” but what that really means is that when you entrust yourself to Jesus, when you acknowledge your failures and leave them in His hands, then God says you’re ok.
Nobody has a right to look down on you — God says you’re ok. It took a little time, but this new consciousness broke the power, first of the aristocracy, and then of every slaveholder throughout the Christian world (the US was unique in needing to fight a war to end slavery — every other Western nation managed it peaceably.) The logic is simple and inescapable: if God says you’re ok, then who could dare to look down on you?
Who do you let look down on you? Who do you look down on? Why?