The title of this post was the Apostle Peter’s instruction to his reading audience nearly a couple of millennia ago in 1 Peter 2:17. And his reading audience is still scratching its collective head over it.
It’s never been easy. If I think my “king” (or the leadership of my country) is hard to honour, Peter was likely writing those puzzling words during the reign of “king” Nero who was responsible, tradition tells us, for Peter’s crucifixion wrong-side-up. Yeah, the Nero of Christians-used-for-garden-torches fame. That’s the guy Peter told Christians to honour.
So the obvious question arises: How?
Well, first and most obviously, I think the command is primarily for the sake of the honourer, not the honouree. It’s about the kind of people we, as Christians, want to be, not the kind of person our “king” is (whoever he or she may happen to be). We primarily honour the position and secondarily the person.
The Bible also gives the command that parents are supposed to be honoured, and we’ve all seen parents that are just, plain dishonourable as people and as parents.
I’ve struggled with both of these commands. How does one honour one’s parent that may not have been a thoroughly honourable person, and how does one honour one’s “king” who may also not be a thoroughly honourable person? I’m still working through it, and there might not be a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all answer.
I honoured my mum differently than I honoured my dad. I saw my dad seldom after the age of thirteen, and we never had a close relationship. I wrestled through how I could obey God’s command to honour him (which command at times I certainly didn’t obey. Not gonna pretend I did that one perfectly), and I still ponder it, even though he’s dead now. I’ve seen one or two ways forward in that honouring, though I haven’t mastered it. I’ve recognized that it will never quite look identical to the honour I gave my mum. And I think that’s okay. We have different relationships with different individuals. Honour might look different from individual to individual and from relationship to relationship.
I’m now grappling with what it means to honour my “king,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a Prime Minister I will freely admit has won my vote for the worst Prime Minister Canada has ever seen.
Was that statement honouring to my Prime Minister? Here’s my defence for why it may be: Honour and honest share an obvious root word. I don’t think we honour anyone by saying what’s not true or by hiding facts or our true opinions.
I’m blessed to live in a time and place where we can not only honour our “king;” we can also vote for him. Or vote against him. And I make no secret of the fact that I sincerely hope Canadians vote in a different direction in our upcoming October election than the direction in which they voted four years ago. I don’t think it’s dishonouring to the position of leader of the country of Canada to hope that we get the best man or woman for that position or to admit the truth when we didn’t.
But besides being honest about his shortcomings and bad decisions, how can I honour Justin Trudeau, not just the Prime Minister but the man? In 1 Peter 2:17, we’re not only told to honour the king; we’re taught to “honour all men.” Again the obvious question: How?
How do we honour all men when not all men are honourable? And again, the obvious answer that we start by honouring the position. Personal respect must be earned, but positional respect can be given. I can respect any other human by virtue of their position as a human. I can see them as valuable and worthwhile just because of that image of God the Bible tells us we all wear imprinted into our souls.
I can start there, and then I can try to see things from the other person’s perspective. I can believe the best of the other as far as it’s compatible with reality. I can treat the other in the same way I’d want to be treated.
And this honouring will take on a different shape for each individual I’m attempting to honour.
What sort of shape has this taken on for me when it comes to Justin Trudeau? Again, I won’t pretend that I’ve nailed it and I’ve always and ever only acted in an honourable and honouring manner. But I’ve tried to catch myself in my online activity by not sinking to name-calling, at least. While I think pointing out the flaws in his governance can be consistent with honour (and sometimes I think even a little sarcasm, humour, or a little gentle mockery — I tell people that mockery is my love language — can be consistent with honour.), I try not to cross certain lines. Tempting as it is and fitting and funny as some of them are, I try to avoid using the nicknames Justin Trudeau has accumulated in online conservative circles. (If you spend any time hanging out online in conservative circles, you’ll know what I’m talking about.) I try to always remember our common humanity (seeing pictures of him with his kids opens up a little soft spot in my heart that I try to massage and encourage). I hope and pray for the best for him. And for our country. This means praying for a change of heart where I think heart-change needs to happen. If it doesn’t, then I pray for a change of leadership for our country as being the best thing for it. But I still hope and pray for all the best for its present leadership, starting with a heart-change.
And then I slide into bad behaviour and do and say some dishonouring things. Yup! I know I do. But I can at least attempt to follow Peter’s teaching and example in this matter of honouring the king. I must at least start with the “want-to.”