Earlier this month I took a trip to Thailand for a human trafficking seminar as part of my duties as Co-moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA). As you may know, Thailand’s King Bhumipol recently passed away and the country just ended a 30-day period of national mourning. Our delegation visited the country in the middle of that mourning period. Everywhere we went, a memorial to the king could be found on billboards, street corners, in lobbies of buildings, and in houses of worship. Thais, who are known for their pleasant demeanor, were visibly sullen, their trademark smiles largely absent. They are increbibly devoted to their beloved king, and I was struck by how whenever anyone referred to him, they did so in the possessive: “Our king.”

Though I was born in a country with a constitutional monarchy (the United Kingdom), I have lived most of my life in a democratic republic (the United States). I don’t really know what it’s like to live in a monarchy, so much of the “king” language in the Bible is lost on me. In their mourning, the people of Thailand helped me better understand what it means to have a king.

Of those memorials to him, they usually read something along the lines of, “From your devoted subjects.” When speaking of him, the language used connotes a sense of belonging, one to another — king to people and people to king. As his subjects, the people of Thailand understand it to be their duty to treat their king with deference in life and with a proper memorial in death. To me, an American, King Bhumipol was a king. To Thais, he was their king. There is definitely a difference.

Any sovereign (or any leader, for that matter) is identitifed by her or his subjects/followers. If XYZ is my leader, I will do what XYZ says. I will abide by XYZ’s teachings. I will, in very functional and tangible ways, love XYZ because XYZ is mine. Simply put, sovereigns have subjects.

After the U.S. elections, many Christians (perhaps with some resignation) said that ultimately God is sovereign. “Jesus is still on the throne!” “It doesn’t matter who is President, because God is my [monarch].”

That is encouraging to hear, because that means if God is indeed sovereign, then God has subjects.

Subjects who do the will of their monarch.

Subjects who will show devotion to their regent by their obedience.

Subjects who will love their regent.

What if Christians understood God’s sovereignty not as God’s ability to do what God wills, but as our responsibility to do what God wills? What if we understood God’s sovereignty not as permission to passively trust in some nebulous vision of a utopian future, but as impetus for mobilizing the reign of God “on earth as it is in heaven”?

If God is sovereign, then God’s subjects will care for the stranger, the orphan, the widow, the poor, the wronged, the marginalized, the disenfranchised, the ostracized, the exploited, the sick, and the powerless. That, after all, is the will of the sovereign — and the responsibility of the subjects.

What does our Sovereign require of us?


Denise Anderson is a Presbyterian Church (USA) Teaching Elder and Co-moderator of the 222nd General Assembly of the PCUSA (along with another RevGal, Jan Edmiston). Denise blogs at Soula Scriptura and is among the contributors to the RevGals book, There‚Äôs a Woman in the Pulpit (SkyLight Paths).


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One thought on “If God Is Sovereign…

  1. This is brilliant, Denise! Thank you. I have long wondered what Americans can do to understand kingship/lordship the same way the biblical writers and characters did. This is helpful.

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