Chain of command, politics and authority…

Yesterday Judy and I had the privilege of attending the retirement ceremony of Lt. Col. Darren Roberts, a friend from our church. The impressive service, steeped in military (Air Force) heritage and protocol celebrated 25 years of dedication, diligence and faithful service of Lt. Col. Roberts. The sacrifices of his family, especially his wife, were recognized.

Following the hour-long ceremony, a reception provided opportunity for me to observe those in attendance. There were men and women, boys and girls. Some were civilian. Most were military. Among the military, I obviously observed many Air Force uniforms but was surprised to see a few Navy uniforms sprinkled in. Various ranks, both officers and enlisted were represented. Many civilian Department of Defense employees were also present. I thanked God for the talented and well-trained men and women who have devoted their lives and energies to defend our country through its military services.

Prior to the service, as we were getting out of our van, we were greeted by an Air Force captain who was an usher for the ceremony. He had been dispatched to help us. As we crossed the parking lot we crossed paths with another officer. Salutes were exchanged, the junior officer initiating, the senior officer responding. Once inside we met several other officers, one of whom was a former commanding officer of Mr. Roberts. Just before we were seated and the ceremony was to begin, we greeted several other friends from our church. One friend was alone, so we invited him to sit with us. He is an elder in our church and a Master Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy. I was impressed to see the number of representatives from our church, especially former or retired military families.

Observing on the various ranks of enlisted persons and officers together with the salutes and military protocol, I was reminded of the “Chain Of Command.” That is, authority is derived from a superior to whom the one receiving it must answer or give account. Everyone is accountable and must give an answer for their conduct. In the United States, the President is also the Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces. In theory, he is accountable to both the Congress (Senate and House of Representatives) and the Supreme Court. In practice, this currently doesn’t seem to be the case. Nevertheless, it remains true. I suppose this might be the reason why many folks, especially politicians don’t appreciate the phrase: “… One nation under God.”

However, most of us recognize that we must submit to authority and be held accountable to one standard or another. So military personnel are not the only ones who must give account.

The Bible records (Isaiah 6) the Lord God calling Isaiah to be his spokesman or Prophet. This occurs in the wake of the death of King Uzziah, who had reigned with distinction for 52 years. His rule was marked by remarkable political and economic advances. Prosperity and power characterize his regime. Over a half a century of authority and public adoration had come to an ignoble end. Because Uzziah refused to recognize the authority of God, his splendor was diminished by leprosy and finally death.

In this context, Isaiah sees a vision of the LORD, who is “high and lifted up.” Isaiah 6.1 – 5 describe his majestic glory: “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

The Lord God holds all people, even the most aloof, accountable to him. Isaiah recognizes this and proclaims his personal unworthiness and need for pardon in God’s presence. He also sees One who is high and lifted up suffering for the sins of his people (Isaiah 52.19) and later an exalted One who condescends to dwell with his humbled and contrite people (Isaiah 57.19 ff.) In the New Testament, the apostle John recognizes this to be Jesus (John 12.38 – 41), who is both the suffering Messiah and God himself.

The New Testament further speaks of Jesus judging the living and the dead. He has been appointed by God to judge and will hold everyone accountable to him. Speaking of him, Peter says, And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”” (Acts 10:42–43, ESV)

It is encouraging to read that Jesus will not only hold everyone accountable but that he also offers everyone forgiveness of sins. By his death on the cross Jesus has already paid the penalty for sinners. If we believe in his name, Jesus the righteous judge, offers pardon and forgiveness. People of every rank and stature are invited to believe in him and receive forgiveness of sins through his name. It seems pretty clear. Everyone is accountable (and guilty) but those who believe in him receive forgiveness. This is good news.

Even though this concept of accountability seems strange, it should comfort us and inform our perspective, especially regarding the political process of today. Everyone is accountable. Those who seem to be above the law, those who manipulate the system, those who make the laws – everyone is accountable to God. That little phrase mentioned above, “one nation under God” is intended to warn and remind us – even our leaders and other politicians.

There is coming a time when everyone will be held accountable for what they have done or not done throughout their lives. This reality should be terrifying. The good news is that the Judge offers pardon to those who believe in him. Like I said, this is the good news.

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