It’s Memorial Day, a glorious day of rest (for every cashier, store manager, and gas station attendant who woke up early and went to work today, thank you!). We have grilling to do! We have family picture albums to open, war decorations to touch, to pass from hand to hand, as we try to explain to the bright-eyed grandchildren the idea of “sacrifice.” We have American flags to raise, corn on the cob to graze, cans of beer to leave us in a retrospective haze from the comfort of our lawn chairs by the fire pit.
In my most recent post I began to explore the idea of submission, and why it’s such an aversion in our culture. Today, I’ll wrap it up real quick. You have stuff to do. But I think Memorial Day and the idea of submission actually go together.
As we gather for a day of celebration, the themes of the day – service, fallen heroes, and the memory of men and women who gave something precious up forever – are a fitting segue to the idea of submission. What does it mean to submit? Why do Americans detest the idea of submitting? Our heroes submitted to a higher call, to the orders of their leaders, and to the greater good. They placed their lives secondary to country. We honor them for it.
My knowledge about war doesn’t go much deeper than Saving Private Ryan. When I think of war, I picture Matt Damon and Tom Hanks, dirt-smeared and blood-spattered. I picture the Iwo Jima memorial, the lit soldiers in the Korean war memorial in D.C. What do I know of their sacrifice? I cannot claim to understand it, but I am grateful for it.
I think of the U.S.S. Hornet I toured in California, an aircraft carrier from World War II with low ceilings, drab barracks, and terrifying do-not-pass-we-keep-explosives-in-here-areas.
When I think of our veterans, I think unselfish. I think, here are men and women who gave years, even their whole lives, in an important and dangerous service most of us will never, ever have to perform.
I have to think that members of the armed forces constantly submit – to their leaders, generals, to the orders of those higher than them. The order and discipline we associate with the armed forces reveals a dutiful, respectful submission that I’m sure a veteran could elaborate on. You get orders, and you obey. Without submission, the efforts of the armed forces would fail. They would lack unity and cooperation. Everyone needs a leader to look up to and follow.
But even though submission results in smooth and successful outcomes in so many areas, in our everyday lives, we resist submission. In an age of choice, technological independence, when we can do our own banking and connecting and creating, when we can go buy anything we want and need at the mall, when we have access to information at our fingertips, to continuing education and ebooks and the Internet, why submit? We are gods. There is no one higher than ourselves and our collective humanity. Frankly, it’s annoying, inconvenient, and dangerous to submit. Submission risks abuse. Submission makes us servile. If we give up our authority, we may never get it back.
This morning I read the account of creation in Genesis, when God creates man. God places man at the helm of the created order. He gives Adam creative license to name all the animals. He tells him to rule over everything – the animals and the plants – and to populate the earth with children! He gives him a beautiful woman to stand next to him, to support him in his role of leadership in the world.
Adam gets to do a whole stinkin lot. God isn’t keeping all the fun of creation to himself – he gives Adam the ability to participate. What a beautiful picture! Human beings have always been creators. We’re made in the image of God, and innate in our souls is the desire to create, to name, to order our world and participate in it.
What a task! And yet God sets himself up as Lord of it all. Through the years of the Old Testament, through the decades, God tells his people the Israelites that he is their Lord, and they are to honor, obey, and love him. They mess up, again and again. He calls them to submit. He demands their obedience. They keep trying to assert their own authority and dominion. They get themselves into terrible situations (slavery, idolatry, angry family situations). God calls them back to himself. Submit to my authority, and live! My laws are good, and your own nature is to get yourself into nasty messes! God wants his people to live peaceful, joyous, productive, happy lives in fellowship with him and with each other. But oops, they have a little trouble submitting, because they just want to run away from God and be independent of his control – which never has good outcomes.
Then insert Jesus. Jesus explodes into the Greco-Roman world with a new covenant – freedom from the law that the Israelites just kept breaking, and freedom to surrender your life to God and be forgiven. Do you still have to submit? Yes! But Jesus models a relationship with God enlivened by the spirit and made beautiful because God, unlike earthly authorities, always leads with perfect love for those who submit to him. Submission has always been required of God’s people for their own good – and now it is ironically a way to find freedom from sin, from a person’s tendency to run wild, from a person’s desires that will cause destruction in their life and in the lives of others.
What if our armed forces had not submitted to the orders of their leaders? You can argue and debate about the goodness of war, about the structure of the military, of the rightness of it all. But at the end of the day, we all submit to something – or someone. And at the end of the day, things either go well because of our submission – or not so well.
To submit is to risk. You risk because you have to trust that the one you submit to has your best interests in mind. Is it wise to give up authority, to give up control, like that?
Only if you submit to someone who loves you, a powerful, perfect person whose creativity knows no end, who never makes evil demands of us, and whose control over our lives results in our perfect peace and joy.