In the first reading from the book of Samuel, we read of how the people petitioned Samuel to give them a king.
It must be remembered that until the appointment of Saul as the first King of Israel, the Israelites had no other king except Yahweh, unlike the pagan nations. God ruled Israel through His intermediaries by appointing prophets and judges as in the case of Moses, Aaron, Joshua and the judges recorded in the Book of Judges. It can be said that Israel was basically a theocratic government. In other words, God was recognized as the head of State. God governed His people through His appointed prophets or kings. It was believed that regardless whether they were judges or kings, they ruled the country based on divine revelation. Hence all laws, divine, civil or customs had to be observed strictly.
Perhaps, during the time of Moses and Samuel, because the people were truly in touch with God, a theocratic state could work out. The leaders received a special charism to form the People of God. They received special divine inspiration to guide the people in its infancy stage of the evolution of the kingdom. Yet, over time, the leaders were not always faithful to God. We read that “the sons of Eli were scoundrels; they had no regard for the Lord or for the duties of the priests to the people.” (1 Sm 2:12) That was why God raised Samuel to be the judge and priest for the Lord. But history repeats itself. We read, “When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. Yet his sons did not follow in his ways, but turned aside after gain; they took bribes and perverted justice.” (1 Sm 8:1,3)
It was within this context of the corrupted judges and their abuses that the appeal of the elders of Israel for a king was made. The justification given was, “Look, you are old, and your sons do not follow your ways. So give us a king to rule over us, like the other nations.” In truth, if the sons were faithful to the Lord, the leaders would not have asked for a king like the other nations. It was true that the people rejected the judges after Samuel because they were corrupt. It is said that absolute power corrupts absolutely. The point therefore is that faith alone is not sufficient to rule a state. We need reason to check the balance of power. Even Moses needed the help of the 70 elders to help him manage the affairs of the State. This points to the dangers of a theocratic state as it can lead to abuses and fundamentalism, as we see in some political systems.
On the other hand, the warning of Samuel was equally pertinent and real. He warned them of the possible abuses of the King as well, if he were not faithful and obedient to the Lord, and reminded them that he was only a representative of Yahweh. He said, “These will be the rights of the king who is to reign over you. He will take your sons and assign them to his chariotry and cavalry, and they will run in front of his chariot. He will use them as leaders of a thousand and leaders of fifty; he will make them plough his ploughland and harvest his harvest and make his weapons of war and the gear for his chariots. He will also take your daughters as perfumers, cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields, of your vineyards and olive groves and give them to his officials. He will tithe your crops and vineyards to provide for his eunuchs and his officials. He will take the best of your manservants and maidservants, of your cattle and your donkeys, and make them work for him. He will tithe your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out on account of the king you have chosen for yourselves, but on that day God will not answer you.” All that Samuel said of course came true in the history of Israel and Judah when the bad and evil kings abused their power and trust, lived only for themselves and caused injustices especially to the poor, and supported cronyism.
What lessons can we draw for today’s world? Whilst it is true that God does appoint prophets and judges and inspire them, yet, faith does not deny the use of reason. Hence, the Church has wisely separated the responsibilities of the Church and the State, that is, between faith and reason. The Church’s doctrines are dependent on faith and reason. However, reason is not sufficient to know the fullness of truth. Revelation is needed, and to receive revelation, faith is required. For the administration of the country, it is the duty of the State to rule the people with justice based on reason. The task of the Church is to purify reason with faith, enabling the political and civil leaders to see deeper into the truth of the policies they formulate for the people on the basis of natural laws. Whilst the Church does not interfere with the State, her duty is to help the State to rule with justice and compassion in truth and in love.
What is said for faith and reason with respect to religion and the State, the same parallel is extended to our relationship with God as well. In the gospel, Jesus also referred to the intrinsic relationship between faith and reason. For the man to be healed totally, faith is required. Although it was true that he did not have sufficient faith yet to believe in Jesus, his friends gave him the impetus to accept Jesus and His words in faith. It was in faith that the man received the forgiveness of sins. It was not just because he was physically sick and paralyzed, but the primary healing that was needed was from a spiritual malady. Nature and the spiritual world are very much more connected than what most people think. Man is body and spirit and therefore many of our sicknesses are connected with the weakness of the human spirit, dulled and blinded by sins. Accordingly, Jesus knew that what the man needed first and foremost was spiritual healing before any physical restoration could take place.
On the other hand, He was very much aware that the objection of the onlookers was valid since they did not have faith in Him. It was right that they asked, “How can this man talk like that? He is blaspheming. Who can forgive sins but God?” Since they were without faith, it was necessary for Jesus to validate His claims that indeed, the man’s sins had been forgiven. “But to prove to you that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,’ – he said to the paralytic – ‘I order you: get up, pick up your stretcher, and go off home.’ And the man got up, picked up his stretcher at once and walked out in front of everyone, so that they were all astounded and praised God saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this.’”
Once again, we see the close relationship between faith and reason. A man of deep faith can understand more about God. When we trust someone, we can appreciate the person better than if we were skeptical of that person. Trust removes prejudices; opens the mind and the heart to the other person.
But faith is not sufficient because it can be irrational and we can be deceived. Faith needs reason to substantiate beliefs so that faith, even whilst dependent on revelation and trust, can stand up to reason. Faith requires the work of reason so that faith can be purified and show itself to be intelligible even though it transcends reason. Faith is not to be reduced to mythology. Reason therefore is the work of theology, which is an attempt to present the doctrines of faith in a systematic and reasonable manner.
Faith enables us to walk the truth, respecting the rule of reason and yet recognizing the fact of divine revelation of God’s plan in Christ. Faith is not against reason but enables reason to arrive at the fullness of truth. In this way, with faith and reason working together, God continues to rule our lives as we acclaim His sovereignty over us. With the psalmist, we pray, “Happy the people who acclaim such a king, who walk, O Lord, in the light of your face, who find their joy every day in your name, who make your justice the source of their bliss. For you, O Lord, are the glory of their strength; by your favour it is that our might is exalted; for our ruler is in the keeping of the Lord; our king in the keeping of the Holy One of Israel.”