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A View from the Altar / Picking heroes
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Picking heroes

Every culture has its heroes.  More often than not, the heroes stand as a sort of generalization.  They embody whatever is prominent about a culture, especially what the culture admires about itself.  The old Nazi philosophers believed their Führer was the perfect composite of the characteristics of das volk, the people.  In their theory of government, a leader emerges naturally from the populace because his character reflects the core personality of the nation.

We talk this way in America to certain extent.  Ronald Reagan became the hero of the conservative political movement because he had, in the threadbare phrase, a “sunny optimism” about all things American.  In this way, he became the emblem of all those who were true believers in what they termed “American ideals.”

In just this way, Ayatollah Khomeini reflected what the Moslems believe is best about the Shi’a version of Islam.  The Iranians dearly loved the image of old Khomeini glowering at the world from beneath his turban and Veggie Tale-style angry eyebrows.  Although Vladimir Putin is currently getting some grief over the state of the Russian economy, he is well on his way to becoming one of the most revered cult figures in modern Russian history.  He is the epitome of all things martial and intellectual.  Possessed of a superb intelligence and speaking at least three languages, Putin is also a former KGB agent, a hunter of Siberian tigers, and has a black belt in a Russian form of judo.  He can probably outsmart you, but even if he can’t, he can still kick your butt.  The Russians love this because they see a reflection of their own glory in Mr. Putin.

What we choose to admire has a tremendously powerful effect on us.  The effect is usually bigger by far than we think it is.  We’re all familiar with teen infatuations about a movie star, rock star, rodeo performer and whatnot.  What makes the teen infatuations look silly is that they’re so transparent.  Older people are no less influenced by what they admire; they just learn to be more subtle about showing it.  Yet even with the guardedness and discretion of advancing age, it’s not uncommon to find ridiculous expressions of puppy love directed at some powerful person and throngs of devotees aping their guru’s every move and even copying the way he talks.

Perfunctory hero worship is often expected in an organization whether it’s a corporation, the Congress, or a college.  Some people detest this sort of thing and simply won’t do it.  They typically don’t advance very far in that organization.  Others consider it a disagreeable duty, something like singing the school alma mater at a graduation ceremony — they do it but they don’t mean a word of it.  But the person who expects to advance in the organization has to go all the way with it.  And at some point, most people find themselves doing it.   So the dedicatory epistle in the front of the King James Bible addresses King James in terms that most people would have difficulty mustering for God Himself.  Pardon the long quote, but it’s worth it for a glance at world class sucking up:

TO THE MOST HIGH AND MIGHTY PRINCE

JAMES,

BY THE GRACE OF GOD

KING OF GREAT BRITAIN, FRANCE, AND IRELAND, DEFENDER OF THE FAITH, &C.,/P

GREAT and manifold were the blessings, most dread Sovereign, which Almighty God, the Father of all mercies, bestowed upon us the people of England, when first he sent Your Majesty’s Royal Person to rule and reign over us. For whereas it was the expectation of many, who wished not well unto our Sion, that upon the setting of that bright Occidental Star, Queen Elizabeth of most happy memory, some thick and palpable clouds of darkness would so have overshadowed this Land, that men should have been in doubt which way they were to walk; and that it should hardly be known, who was to direct the unsettled State; the appearance of your Majesty, as the Sun in his strength, instantly dispelled those supposed and surmised mists, and gave unto all that were well affected exceeding cause of comfort; especially when we beheld the Government established in Your Highness, and Your hopeful Seed, by an undoubted Title, and this also accompanied with peace and tranquillity at home and abroad.

If that doesn’t make you blow chunks, you’ve got a cast iron stomach.  There’s no doubt the scholars had to gargle with something caustic after doing this.  But bear in mind, this kind of behavior is demanded of people who want to be in the presence of a king.  It takes a big ego to be a king, and a big ego needs a lot of strokes, and a guy who can have you beheaded can get his strokes, as many as he wants from whomever he wishes.

Except Daniel.

Scripture provides no indication that Daniel held the least bit of adulation for Babylon, and there is no instance of him expressing adulation for Babylon or its rulers.  He neither admired Babylon nor pretended to for the sake of political gain.   He saw it for what it was, an establishment of killers and thugs ordained of God as a chastening rod for his own people, Israel.  Since the Babylonians were human beings made in the image of God, Daniel treated them as such.  Since Nebuchadnezzar, and later Darius, were kings appointed by God (Dan 5:18), Daniel treated them as men appointed by God.  That is a high honor, plenty high.  There was no need to go over the top as the pious sycophants did for King James.  The spare formality of blessing, “O King, live forever,” was quite enough. (Dan 6:21)

Daniel had a hero of his own, his God.  He reserved his admiration for the Lord.   I can’t imagine him using the title “most high” in reference to an earthly king.  This is reserved for God alone — not as a mere religious rule such as not stepping on graves, but because Daniel had chosen to set before himself one who was truly great, or as the Westminster Catechism says it, “infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.”

And what is man beside this?  All the nations of the earth are like a drop in a bucket and are accounted as the small dust of the balance — the lint that is so thin it doesn’t affect the weight at all. (Isa 40:15)  All the princes of the earth are nothing before the Lord Almighty, (Isa 40:23) and when God is done with them, he will convert them into bird feed.  (Ezek 39:17-19)  David was a king, yet he blessed God and not himself.  He wrote:

Lord, what is man, that thou takest knowledge of him! or the son of man, that thou makest account of him!  (Psalm 14:3)

How does a man of God keep from getting his head turned by the pomp and glory of a Babylon or Medo-Persia?  By setting his eyes upon One who is Most High, from everlasting to everlasting, the great Judge of all flesh.  We’re responsible for choosing who and what we admire.  Be careful, little eyes, what you see.

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