Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Cosmic Accidents and the Chain of Command

Many years ago now, a man I love and respect opened up the book of Matthew and read us the story of the centurion’s faith. You will recall that the Lord commended this Roman soldier as exceptional because he understood that Jesus possessed the ability to heal from far away as easily as he could heal when immediately present, so he didn’t wish to trouble the Lord unnecessarily by asking him to undertake a journey in order to do him a favor.

The centurion expressed his conviction this way: “I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

“Only say the word ...” Wow. That was indeed great faith, and the Lord responded to it.

The Chain of Command

The practical application my friend drew from the passage was this: in order to possess authority that will always be reliably backed up, one must first be subject to one’s own higher authority. I have never forgotten it.

We are living at a time in human history when our Western authorities are demonstrating how comprehensively they fail to grasp this principle, and the consequences of their willful disconnection from the chain of command — from the One from whom all authority derives — are rapidly becoming darkly hilarious.

If I am nothing more than a cosmic accident or a sack of sentient meat, then of course I am the final word on absolutely everything. I may do exactly what I like at every moment, because nobody around me has any more real authority than I do and nobody’s opinion is any more valid than my own. Why should anyone else get to dictate how I behave? My relationship to all putative authority figures will be purely pragmatic: obey if they can hurt me, disobey when they are not looking.

If we are not creatures subject to our Creator, then there is no higher good (assuming we can speak of “good” at all) than the fulfillment of my own desires, and chasing these becomes the object of my existence.

What is ‘Good’?

Consider what sort of authority figure such a worldview will make me in practice, whether as a father, a teacher, an employer, a religious leader or even as a cog in the machinery of the secular state. In God’s economy, a ruler is “not a terror to good conduct, but to bad”. He is “God’s servant for your good”. But you see the problem, surely. This only works as intended, and to the benefit of all, when the words “good” and “bad” mean the same thing to the public and to their elected officials as they mean to the God from whom all authority derives.

When instead our rulers define these things for themselves, or when it is expedient for them to pretend to define them the way the majority of their unthinking subjects do, we get ... well, exactly what we are currently getting. “Good” now means nothing more profound than the maximum number of individuals living as long as possible, no matter what else society may give up in the bargain (a staggering loss estimated by one professor of economics at Simon Fraser University as something between 3.6 and 282 times any benefit derived from the last year of lockdowns).

Oh, and “bad” is anyone who disagrees with the conventional wisdom, probably including the economics professor.

But this is a perfectly consistent approach to take if you and those over whom you exercise authority are nothing more than cosmic accidents. If this world and my experience of it are all there is, then every last second of life is to be held onto by any means necessary, and at any cost, and every public policy decision made for us will be motivated by nothing more enlightened than rank, animal fear.

Just not fear of God, unfortunately.

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