Will Ye No Come Back Again: The Longing for Absent Leaders

Will Ye No Come Back Again: The Longing for Absent Leaders November 7, 2018

God help us, but we miss our leaders, mostly the leaders we have never had. We long for the return of the good King, but candidates are few in fact.

We have a jolly tradition at any great feast we host: we toast absent friends, heroes, random folks from history we admire, and then sing loudly and defiantly:

Bonnie Charlie’s noo awa
Safely o’er the friendly main;
He’rts will a’most break in twa
Should he no’ come back again.

Will ye no’ come back again?
Will ye no’ come back again?
Better lo’ed ye canna be
Will ye no’ come back again?

Bonnie Charlie is not coming back, being dead and all. Probably the table would be divided if in fact the dashing heir to the Stuarts did land from France and try to kick the House of Windsor from the throne. Good Queen Elizabeth II usually gets her own toast. There would be more unanimity if he went after the leaders of the two largest parties in the Commons. All of us, when not toasting and roistering, might (might!) admit that Bonnie Charlie was a bit sad and not worthy of the loyalty and support he received.

Instead, Bonnie Charlie is a fill-in for the leaders for whom we long. There are many candidates.

The Once and Future King

There was once Camelot, possibly, though maybe not. If the old stories have any truth to them (and they might not), then Arthur did not happily ever after in Camelot, Britain was not worthy of him. He was wounded and left for mysterious Avalon, there to find healing for his wounds. He will return when needed: the once and future king. 

Ever since we got (metaphorically or literally) kicked out the Garden of Eden, we have longed to restore a relationship with the High King of Heaven. Jesus came at Christmas time and Earth received her King. He had to go, humanity was not yet ready to leave the school of souls.

Jesus Christ was, is, and will be King. He is King now and so all will be right with the world. Every song to Bonnie Prince Charlie, the tale of the last Emperor of Byzantium waiting in the pillars of Hagia Sophia for the moment to return, or story of Arthur bows in the direction to this Revelation.

Maranatha! Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Supposing you take Jesus as just another Arthur: a grand retelling of the leader who was and then is coming someday, you might note that Jesus has fulfilled a deep need, this need for a once and future king, in ways that the other examples do not. King Jesus, the Prince of Peace, has transcended languages and cultures. The King of the Jews is also King of Kings and Lord of Lord: he is not a local Prince. Bonnie Charlies is Scotland, Arthur a matter for (mostly) Britain,  but Jesus is the cross-cultural legend.  

Dispensing with an Objection

Some of this longing is mere romance and to people with no emotional inclination that way, the longing can seem distasteful.  They confuse an emotional reaction to a fact with the fact and when they do not have the emotion, they ignore the fact. Facts do not go away just because we do not have feelings about them. Even if you never feeel hungry, you can still starve to death.

We need a leader of a certain sort, but such leaders are not around. This fact can stir up many different types of feelings or none at all, but their leader is not there for the man who longs for him or the man who does not care. The result of ignoring the hunger is binging on a cheap substitute: the present Dear Leader instead of the once and Future King. The twentieth century is full of very secular regimes that loathed Jesus and loudly proclaimed their commitment to reason, that developed fierce cults of personality. Evidently if you will not long for Arthur, you often end up in a jumpsuit for Mao.

The objection in fact points to why Jesus had to go: we need the liberty the longing provides. Our souls need to grow toward the future King.

The Once and Future Creates the Necessary Now

Tyrants play on the longing for leadership. They give us now what Jesus would not do. Jesus ascended and sent an inner witness. Jesus went to God so we can end up ourselves on thrones. He was, is, and is to come so we evolve into a royal nation.

We cannot handle a great leader. Socrates? Athenians killed him, as surely as America assasinated our King. The closer the leader comes to wisdom, the more he will irritate us and we will make all manner of charges against him. Of course, most leaders are not wise and tyranny is a temptation.

They will help us. They are indispensable. Their passion for power and the moment of need have come together and so they will save us. No man who longs to be the philosopher-king, Plato warns, could possibly be the philosopher king. The lover of wisdom must be forced to take some power, the tyrant seizes all he can.

The tyrant always lets us down. He must disappoint, because the King cannot be manifest to us in this time, this now. This is not the age for the Return of the King, not yet. We are not ready: there is a river to cross before we enter that Promised Land.

Christian legend, the once and future, creates the necessary now where we know the leader we need and know beyond all doubt that I am not that leader, nobody is that leader. We owe total allegiance to party, prince, or president. 

We are waiting on the once and future king and until He comes in clouds of glory, we withhold that absolute devotion our hearts will give when the Beloved Prince comes.

Will He no come back again?

He will indeed.




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