Let Another Take His Office: A Musing On Authority

I have noticed that over the course of this blog I have frequently discussed the question, in various forms, of the truth that authority figures are not irreplaceable.  It is a curious phenomenon that an entitlement mentality sneaks in for authority figures when they start assuming that the honors and respect due to their office [1] belong to themselves personally.  They start to think (in error) that they are the only fit and proper and legitimate authorities to inhabit those offices, because the robes of office fit them so snugly that they cannot see anyone else taking their place.

This is a widespread and general human problem, especially present among people with authority who are immature (which is a vast majority of the people who hold power and have ever held power).  It is, after all, necessary to distinguish between your role and office and your own personal accountability to an external set of standards by which anyone can hold you in account, if you wish to be a good leader [2].  So long as we remember that we are not the authorities but that we too are under authority, then we can properly provide respect to those above us, understanding that they too are accountable to a standard of behavior but worthy of respect due to their office in the same sense that we are, as well as to those in the general body of brethren or citizens at large because they too could inhabit the offices we have at some point.

It is important to note that we ought to respect widely for these purposes.  After all, we ought to respect every young man because he is a potential future husband and father, and a man who has understood and received honor is better able to give it to others.  Likewise we should respect every young woman as a potential future wife and mother for the same reason.  Because none of us are irreplaceable, we must show others who may inhabit our office in the future how to conduct themselves when they wear our shoes, and try on our robes.  If we do a good job behaving respectably in an office, then those who replace us will have a good example to follow, and will hopefully follow the footsteps we have left in the sand.  At any rate, a wise and proper understanding of our own temporary and fallible nature, and the fact that we are all under the authority of someone else (and always will be) allows us to learn how to graciously give and receive respect, and to teach others how to do so as well.

Nonetheless, there are many occasions, if not the majority, where people lose sight of the fact that they wear borrowed robes and the sandals they wear were passed down from someone else, and that they too will someday cast off those robes and sandals and leave them to someone else to walk around in them.  Whether we are dealing with corrupt political authorities [3] or religious ones [4] [5] it is at times necessary to throw out corrupt leaders and have others take their office because the conduct of the leaders has not met the high standard of excellence that is required to remain a legitimate authority.

The Bible places a very strong curse on those who are unworthy holders of an office, found in Acts 1:20:  “For it is written in the Book of Psalms:  ‘Let his dwelling place be desolate, and let no one live in it;’ and ‘Let another take his office.’ ”  This particular curse first applied to the traitor Judas, who betrayed Christ for 30 pieces of silver and ended up committing suicide.  This is not a light curse, but it nonetheless does apply in a more general sense to those who hold an office they are unworthy of.  After all, if a member of the Twelve Disciples of Jesus Christ is not irreplaceable, no lesser authority can properly argue that they are either.

The quote about letting another take his office comes from Psalm 109:8.  It is part of a very long and very fierce curse made about wicked and false accusers and people who hold office corruptly.  It is worth quoting the passage where the curse appears in full to describe the depth of David’s hostility towards corrupt and wicked leaders, as it is found in Psalm 109:6-13:  “Set a wicked man over him, and let an accuser stand at his right hand.  When he is judged, let him be found guilty, and let his prayer become sin.  Let his days be few, and let another man take his office.  Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.  Let his children continually be vagabonds, and beg; let them seek their bread also from their desolate places.  Let the creditor seize all that he has, and let strangers plunder his labor.  Let there be none to extend mercy to him, nor let there be any to favor his fatherless children.  Let his posterity be cut off, and in the generation following let their name be blotted out.”

This particular curse demonstrates that the flip side of holding authority is a very high responsibility to do so uprightly, because if that is not done there are very serious and destructive curses that can fall on a corrupt authority.  For one, they may be taken out of office.  The protection that people receive for power does not last forever.  If someone is a power-mad dictator, they can be captured by their foes, beheaded, their statues and monuments toppled, their streets renamed, their palaces repossessed, their cronies killed or exiled or removed from power.  Their families could be butchered like those of the biblical dynasties of Israel, so that the name would not be carried on.  Nothing on this earth is permanent, power least of all.  The price of enjoying the easy access and use of power when times are going well is that when times go sour in a revolution that that very same position makes one an enemy of the people marked for destruction.

What is one to do then?  First off, one must remember that any office or power that we have as human beings is temporary, and contingent on both our performance within that office as well as time and chance and the ever-mysterious will of God.  We cannot be attached to our offices and positions and power, for they are as evanescent as everything else we have in this world.  Next, we must act in such a way as to be worthy of the office that we fill.  After all, we will stand accountable to the verdict of God’s judgment as well as the the judgment of those who come after us, and neither of those tribunals can be bribed or coerced into accepting our private interpretations of how we did.  Therefore, let us wear our robes of authority lightly, for we will eventually take them off, and we should leave them no worse for the wear for those who follow us.

[1] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/02/23/you-shall-not-revile-god-nor-curse-a-ruler-of-your-people-the-continuing-relevance-of-exodus-22-28/

[2] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2010/11/18/two-approaches-to-authority/

[3] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2010/12/07/get-out-of-our-house-on-colossal-ambitions-and-civics-education/

[4] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/02/08/cheers-to-some-new-hires/

[5] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/03/02/a-musing-on-defrocking/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christianity, Church of God, Musings and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Let Another Take His Office: A Musing On Authority

  1. Sonya says:

    I think the #1 principle that all people in positions of authority need to consistently remember is that to be a great leader one must be focused on serving. Too many people reach leadership positions and are focused mostly on themselves.

    • That is a huge issue–if one remembers the authority that is above that one must serve, it makes one a lot more courteous and respectful of others in general. A little perspective goes a long way.

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