The theory of authority, other than “social contract theory, that has dominated the West dates to the late Middle Ages. It roots the alienating nature of political authority – that political authority chooses for me things that are not my choice – in the vast difference between God and his creatures – what theologians call the “creator-creature distinction”. God commands us, through Scripture or human mediaries (like the king), and his command must be obeyed. A grand jury summons me to appear in court, on pain of a fine or arrest; it is probably for “the good”, but I have no idea whether it is for “my good”. This account does a good job of explaining why political authority brings the good to bear on us. It is God’s command and therefore good by nature. But it does a poor job of showing that God’s command is good for us as well. In fact it tends to portray God as foreign, far off, alien, and perhaps not interested in our good at all; just threatening us with punishment for disobedience.
O’Donovan believes that when ancient Israelites proclamed, as in Psalm 99, “Yahweh is King!” they were not following either of these routes. The kingship of their God was, obviously, not the result of a social contract. But it was also not merely the byproduct of God’s existence and infinite power. Instead it is the result of God keeping faith with his creation. He has shown his loving authority to a world in rebellion against him. “This authority evokes free action because it holds out to the worshippers a fulfilment of their agency within the created order in which their agency has a place and a meaning,” (32). In other words, the one who made us (and therefore knows our good intimately) commands us to live in the way he shows to be right – the way he has built the universe. This is how God’s authority over Israel could present both “the good” and “their good”.