The Story of the Servant King

“Author Philip Yancey adapts a parable by Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard that helps us understand how God attempts to save us while respecting our freedom. It’s a parable of a king who loves a humble maiden:

The king was like no other king. Statesmen trembled before his power. No one dared breathe a word against him, for he had the strength to crush all opponents. And yet this mighty king was melted by love for a humble maiden.

How could he declare his love for her? In an odd sort of way, his very kingliness tied his hands. If he brought her to the palace and crowned her head with jewels and clothed her body in royal robes, she would surely not resist—no one dared resist him. But would she love him?

She would say she loved him, of course, but would she truly? Or would she live with him in fear, nursing a private grief for the life she now left behind? Would she be happy at his side? How could he know?

If he rode up to her forest cottage in his royal carriage, with an armed escort waving bright banners, that too would overwhelm her. He did not want a cringing subject. He wanted a lover, an equal. He wanted her to forget that he was a king and she a humble maiden and to let shared love cross over the gulf between them. ‘For it is only in love that the unequal can be made equal,’ concluded Kierkegaard.

This is exactly the problem God has in his pursuit of you and me—if he overwhelms us with his power we may not be free to love him (love and power are often inversely related). And even if we retain our freedom, we may not love him but merely love what he gives us. What can God do? Here’s what the king did:

The king, convinced he could not elevate the maiden without crushing her freedom, resolved to descend. He clothed himself as a beggar and approached her cottage incognito, with a worn cloak fluttering loosely about him. It was no mere disguise, but a new identity he took on. He renounced the throne to win her hand.

This is exactly what God did to win you and me! He descended to the human level—in fact to one of the lowest social levels possible—to that of a servant. Paul describes Christ’s sacrifice this way in his letter to the Philippians (2:5-8):

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! (qtd in Geisler 379-80).”

Quoted Source:

Geisler, Norman L., and Frank Turek. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an AtheistWheaton: Crossway Books, 2004. Print.

Original Source:

Yancey, Philip. Disappointment with God. New York: Harper Collins, 1988. 109-110. Print.


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