Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Submission to authorities

Yesterday I looked up the poop on marriage licenses in California and found that, among other places, you can pick one up at the Montclair public library. They're 73 bucks, good for 90 days.

The other thing is that they will do a marriage ceremony for 40 bucks, right there in the library. I woke up this morning meditating on why it feels so crappy to think of avoiding lots of inconvenience and expense by doing it that way.

Pastor Santos touched on submission to authority in church last Sunday, so it's been sort of in my head ever since.

I realized that it really comes down to excluding all sorts of people from this event that ought to be involved and get to celebrate it with us. They have authority to be involved. We need them involved in our business, because it's their business too. Just paying 40 bucks in the library would be resisting all these people in our lives.

Of course they don't have any coercive power. That's why God says to submit to authorities for the Lord's sake, not for the sake of their billy clubs and prison cells. To see what's in our hearts, God sends authorities into our lives that have no teeth, who will do nothing to us if we blow them off. But if we do, we will be punished from heaven, learning to respond only to the threat of force as we exercise our power to ignore those can't threaten us with force - in this way becoming slaves of the force which we worship.

It turns out then that the authority we really are called to resist is illegitimate usurpation resting on violence. We read in Daniel of the Antichrist that he honors no god but the god of forces (Daniel 11:36-38). The only way to resist that is to submit to all legitimate authority, especially when it has no force to send against us. Thus it is written, "Submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you."

All effective resistance to usurpation rests on submission. It starts by making sure we're not being usurpers ourselves. The penalty for exalting ourselves against authority is for God to subject us to the humiliation of raw force. You want to know how many divisions he has before you listen? Then God will send you someone to rule over you with divisions, instead of by the powerless truth that you despise.

For this reason, we ought to be looking for reasons to submit to people, thinking about how to serve them and do what they want, instead of trying to find excuses to say no. All authority is instituted by God, as Paul writes in Romans 13, but Romans 13 follows from Romans 12, in particular such words as "give preference to one another in honor," and "rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep." This is about being in submission to one another. The rejoicing and weeping may not be fully justified, but often we should not go there, just as the Lord often doesn't go there with us.

This is good news for us. God doesn't think we have to be right in order to go along with us. Aren't you glad you don't have to be right about everything before God and other people listen to you? God gives grace to the humble, not to the right, which is no doubt why Romans 12 says, leading up to Romans 13, "Do not be wise in your own eyes."

When we're not being wise in our own eyes, it looks like good news for us that God listens to the humble rather than to the right. When that sounds like bad news to us, we must think we are the right. We're being wise in our own eyes.

Once we know that we shouldn't always get what we want, we're ready to say that others shouldn't always get what they want. We need to submit to authority for the Lord's sake; as Peter said to the rulers telling him to shut up, "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). If all authority is instituted by God, then no authority can tell us not to obey God - but can we tell them so and pass the laugh test if we ourselves are not really interested in obeying God and everyone else as far as we can?

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