Thursday, January 18, 2007

Lesson on obedience

I just got back from visiting my son and his wife in Alabama and his wife's family in Panama City. It was a great time for all, seemingly, and for sure for me.

I wound up starring in a promotional video for the "Spring Fling" retreat that the Methodists are doing for the youth this spring. I believe I'll keep my day job, but I'll post the link here as soon as it's there.

We talked and prayed about lots of things. I profited most, maybe, just getting better acquainted with my granddaughter, who helped me understand who I was when I was little. I realized afresh how stupid and mean I've been to one of my sons and got to work trying to straighten that out with him when I got home. Our kids sure have to suffer a lot of stupidity from us, just as we did from our own parents. "Do to others as you want them to do to you" means for parents that we do everything we can to learn how we're causing needless pain and damage to these little people who are so defenseless against our folly.

It can really suck being a kid.

I got another long look at authoritarianism, and how it makes us stupid. The one exercising authority is made stupid because power and position empower us to make things happen without having to give account to those we rule, and therefore to do without the wisdom we need to receive so that we and those we rule might truly obey truth, which is the only true obedience there is. Those ruled are made stupid because they fear to question so that they can learn, fearing to be punished if they dare to inconvenience the ruler by making him learn so that he can do his job - which is to teach. The Proverbs especially emphasize that parents are teachers - but who needs to teach if you can cow people into submission even if nobody involved actually understands? Thus it is written that the discipline of fools is folly, and we have another instance of how those who live by the sword die by it, along with those they lead into the ditch with them.

The justification for authoritarianism is that we do indeed need sometimes to do what we're told even though we don't understand why. But far from being an answer, authoritarianism undermines such obedience like the little boy crying wolf. If command authority is routine, then how will a real emergency be distinguished from the day to day bullying? No, the right example is Jesus, the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He didn't rule by bossing people around and pulling rank. He ruled by being a servant and by being a witness to the truth.

We all know how Jesus rebuked Peter, saying "Get behind me Satan," when Peter tried to save Jesus from the cross. But the real story here is Jesus. After spending well over two years with Jesus, Peter felt free to take him aside and rebuke him. Do those under your charge feel that way about you?

People actually like to be abused, just as they're proud of being effective abusers. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "You, being so wise, bear with the foolish gladly. For you bear with anyone if he enslaves you, if he devours you, if he takes advantage of you, if he exalts himself, if he hits you in the face."

What makes us like those "wise" Corinthians? First, spiritual pride. Why serve God because he's the best deal, the way Willy Sutton robbed banks because that's where they money was - although Jesus said that's exactly how to come (Matthew 11:28-30)? Doing it his way, we miss the opportunity to thank God that we're better than those other self-indulgent people who aren't as willing as we are to make sacrifices and suffer for God.

We read this poison of spiritual pride into the story of Abraham offering Isaac, supposing that Abraham was great because he was ready to be ripped off by God. But that's not how it reads. Abraham had experienced resurrection in his own body, and in Sarah's, as the writer of Hebrews points out. He didn't offer Isaac up because he was willing to lose him but because he expected to get him back.

In Genesis 15, where we read that Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness, we ought to pay attention to exactly how. Read the chapter verse by verse. The way Abraham believed God was by questioning at every point and getting answers, the way Gideon did later. In the Bible, that's the way faith happens. His gentleness makes us great (Psalm 18:30-35). God doesn't drive his workers hard, so it won't work for us either, whether drivers or driven (Isaiah 58:3).

More later, on other things. As I said, a great trip. Thanks, Lauren, I learned from you.


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