It’s not easy, but it can be done. A president can upstage himself at his own inauguration. I know, because I did it.
In 1982 I was scheduled to be inaugurated to the presidency of Bethel College and Seminary. Since Bethel was founded more than a century earlier by Swedish immigrants, and that heritage is still cherished, I invited his Highness, King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden to participate. The king graciously agreed to visit campus on my inauguration day.
Celebration and ceremony appropriate to a royal visit were planned. On Inauguration Day my wife and I stepped forward to greet the king and his entourage as the motorcade drew up. From the car emerged a handsome, debonair king and a beautiful queen. Flashbulbs flashed. The band played. Cheers went up. The crowd rushed forward for a closer look, straining the barricades and making the security people anxious.
Through it all the king maintained his composure and regal bearing while being thoughtful and gracious to me. The ceremony and visit went off without a hitch. When the king and queen had departed, the rest of the day’s events and even my great speech seemed anticlimactic. Without a doubt the king, with Queen Silvia, had been the stars at my inauguration.
Let me be quick to say I am pleased to have shared that day with the king. I am grateful for his presence with us. Really, I didn’t—and don’t—mind being upstaged. Especially when it’s by royalty.
Americans are fascinated with royalty, and many of those of Scandinavian descent have a special attraction to King Carl XVI Gustaf because he represents his country so well and so warmly. Still, we understand the power of today’s reigning constitutional monarchy is severely limited and that fundamental decisions are made by the processes of parliamentary democracy. We have much more difficulty understanding the complete and final authority of the absolute monarchies of the ancient world of biblical times.
My editorial colleague, Jim Packer, has written of the importance of understanding scriptural revelation in the context of the concept of absolute monarchy that is familiar to the biblical writers but so foreign to our political process.
Our government issues “white papers” for dissemination of information, modest recommendations, and tentative opinions, and our political leaders leak “trial balloons” to create favorable responses and lessen opposition.
In contrast, the ancient monarch did not hesitate to issue absolute edicts by fiat. He spoke, and by the power of his word, it was so. When the king spoke, he set the social, economic, and cultural laws for all the realm. He defined the standards and set the expectations. As the biblical writers knew, we are subjects of a divine King, and his Word is to be for us the source of normative values and mandatory behaviors.
The absolute monarchs also spoke in order to establish their leadership among their people, building a bond among their subjects, and fashioning them into a coherent and unified tribe or nation. By their word these kings created a people with identity, solidarity, and purpose. Empires arose.
For Christians, though, one Monarch stands supreme. This absolute divine monarch has even more powerfully spoken to us in the written Word and by his Son, the Living Word, and so it is that he engages human hearts and minds and wins our allegiance to his righteous kingdom.
We may be fond of our favorite reigning monarchs of today, but we need to reflect on how different is the power and majesty of the almighty Creator/Redeemer King of Glory. His Word establishes and defines the realm of my most basic citizenship. He has called us to mutual service and fellowship in his kingdom. I cherish above all the privilege of citizenship in that kingdom. I gladly invite my Lord to upstage me.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.