I am a fan of dramatic criminal and political television. Castle, Chuck, The West Wing, NCIS, Blue Bloods, I’ve binged watched and since forgotten most of them.
But my ongoing favorite, my consistent go-to, is Madam Secretary.
It’s my jam.
In case it’s not your jam, the titular Madam Secretary is one Elizabeth McCord, who hesitantly accepted the role of Secretary of State from her old CIA boss (now the President.)
Secretary McCord is a diplomat, a passionate speaker, a mother of three, and she champions the rights of the downtrodden and mistreated around the globe while trying to protect Americans.
Elizabeth often disagrees with the President. She is frequently told to do something against her better judgement, or to act for the greater good, despite those actions being negative (or even fatal) for an individual. The twists and turns of the show revolve around the tensions Elizabeth feels when her own beliefs conflict with what she must do as Secretary of State. She often fights back against the demands of her superiors. But at the end of the day, she must concede to what she is told.
And when that happens, she stands straight, looks her boss in the eye, and says, “I serve at the pleasure of the President.”
I looked up the origin of that phrase.
But it started way back with the French in 1205, with the saying, “the will of the king.” Meaning whatever he wants, happens. It appeared in America’s language bank in 1789, when James Madison argued for the Presidential Cabinet to be fully under the power of the President.
The saying has had a convoluted history since then, but it has come to mean simply this: In the end, what the President says, goes.
If you fail to do what the President says, you will likely be fired. If you try but are unsuccessful at doing what the President says, you may tender your resignation.
You serve the President, whether you entirely agree or not.
Don’t panic. I’m not actually going to make a political point.
I’m just wondering at whose pleasure you serve?
Who gets the final call in your life? In your decisions? In the end, do you serve at the pleasure of others? Of yourself? Of capitalism? Of justice?
Me, I serve at the pleasure of the King, Jesus.
At least, I say I do.
But I often find myself grumbling, questioning, justifying. I don’t understand the will of the King, and from where I sit, it often doesn’t seem to be in my best interests.
Or it just seems straight up wrong.
I’ve been reading the book of Job this week, an ancient story of a man who had everything – literally everything he could wish for – and God allowed him to fall to the bottom of society, destitute, sick, his family dead. The majority of the book revolves around three of Job’s friends arguing with him that he must have done something to deserve this. In ancient times (and sometimes modern times, if we’re honest) they believed that the gods punished you based on your actions. If you were dealt a bad hand, it was either your fault or your parents’ fault.
But Job spends about 3,000 words defending himself, saying he is righteous. He demands that God explain himself.
Weirdly enough, God does, in fact, answer Job.
And it’s a smackdown.
In another 3,000 words or so, God essentially says this: “Job, do you know everything? Yeah, I didn’t think so.”
It’s a pretty magnificent smackdown, and a really neat piece of literature, if you’re into that sort of thing.
But what it reminded me was that I am not God. I do not serve at my own pleasure because I truly believe that God is greater than I am. He knows more. In fact, he actually knows everything. I do not. I mean, I’m pretty close. But not quite there yet.
I serve at the pleasure of a being who is so entirely powerful, so immensely good, so incredibly wise that I will never, even after 10,000 years of eternity, know everything about him.
So I’m going to try to spend a little less time asking, “Why me? Why them? Why now?” and a little more time standing up straight and saying, “I serve at the pleasure.”