The Greek word hierarchia, “rule of a high priest” from hierarkhes, “leader of sacred rites”, has evolved into the concept we now know as a hierarchy – an arrangement of pretty much anything in which the items are represented as being “above”, “below”, or “at the same level” as another item. Long before the word came to exist in 1880, people had been living in hierarchies of some sort.
Ancient Rome, for example, had multiple and overlapping social hierarchies in effect that affected a person’s social status. Egyptians too, had a class system that divided people by occupation. Over in the Americas, the Inca civilization also had established a hierarchy – the Emperor, the Nobles, the Commoners – with the Warriors being a whole other class outside of the hierarchy. The Aztec’s class structure was was so elaborate that the Spanish was impressed by it almost as much as they were by their architecture. In recent history, India’s Caste system was a hierarchy as well. The world over, all across time, there tends to be some form of hierarchy – usually into working classes (low-paying wage jobs with little economic security), middle classes (falls somewhere in-between the other two classes), and upper classes (rich, well-born, powerful or a combination of those) – and in them, smaller hierarchies that prop them up.
Even in our Scriptures, Jethro’s advice to Moses about how to organize the elders to handle legal matters created hierarchies, there was also the cultural tendency to exist in family units that were also hierarchies as well. Depending on how we read the Scriptures, the first hierarchies could be the introduction of God as a being that exists as a hierarchy, the relationship of humanity as a hierarchy, and from that, the foundation of all hierarchies in the family. But it makes me wonder: Do we view hierarchy as an essential fact of life because we’re replicating God, or have we interpreted God through our pre-existing lens of hierarchy, and because we see God as a hierarchy do we assume that all hierarchies are godly?
Apart from a hierarchy, we lack the words to define God and the persons of God in their interactions with one another. We don’t know how to exist outside of hierarchies. Perhaps we don’t just worship God, but we really worship hierarchy. We look forward to the promise that one day we will be at the top and that there will be others below us who owe us their respect, their loyalty, and even their lives. Is this, how we imagine, the person of the trinity are aligned?
After all, why is it always Father, Son, Holy Spirit/Ghost? Why isn’t it ever the other way around: Holy Spirit/Ghost, Son, Father? or Son, Father, Holy Spirit/Ghost or some other configuration? Can God not function outside of a hierarchy, and is the implication that outside of hierarchies, humanity could not function either? Perhaps it’s time we gave ourselves a chance to see what we can do without them.