Sunday, May 05, 2013

Some thoughts on Authority

This matter has arisen in several of my cases lately, so a more thorough treatment seems called for.

This is at once an authoritarian and rebellious age.  Since these clearly reinforce each other, both in family life and in the public sphere, I think it's obvious that both are evil and indeed come from the same place.  In fact, it's a hallmark of fascist and Leninist movements that revolt and dictatorship are actually combined in the same people and in the same movement.  There's nothing incompatible about authoritarianism and rebellion.  Authoritarian beliefs and conduct are a manifestation of self-assertion and rebellion against God, as one sees in a certain dictator named Lucifer, whose rebellious and authoritarian nature - and its eventual outcome -are described in Isaiah 14:13-15:

You said in your heart, 
"I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God,
And I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north.
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High."
Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol,
To the recesses of the pit.

Of course both those with and without authority follow Satan in this thinking, expressed as their differing circumstances dictate.  People major in the importance of submitting to authority, but the Bible begins with how we exercise authority. 

The duty to submit to authority begins with those who exercise it.  I think that should be obvious, but I'm not sure it is, so consider with me some biblical instruction.

In Hosea 4:14, God says:

I will not punish your daughters when they play the harlot,
Or your brides when they commit adultery.
For the men themselves go apart with harlots,
And offer sacrifices with temple prostitutes.
So the people without understanding  are ruined.

In more detail, we see this principle set forth in what happened to Rehoboam, the son of Solomon.  After his father's death, the 10 northern tribes told Rehoboam that if he would lighten the burdens imposed by his father, then they would serve him.  He first consulted with the old men who had advised hi father, who advised him, "If you will be a servant to this people today, and will serve them and grant them their petition, and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants forever."

Blowing off this good advice, which was not wasted since Jesus took it later, Rehoboam went to the snotty young men he had grown up with, and they advised him to say, "My little finger is thicker than my father's loins!  Whereas my father loaded you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions."

And so, being arrogant and unsubmissive himself, Rehoboam lost most of his kingdom.  He sent a tax collector, and the northern tribes stoned him, so Rehoboam hopped into his chariot and made tracks from there.  God held none of this against the northern tribes who rebelled against him.  Rehoboam did it to himself.

Three gospels (Matthew 20:25-28, Mark 10:42-45, Luke 22:25-27) have Jesus describing  the two kinds of authority this way:

The kings of the gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called "benefactors."  But it is not this way with you, but the one who is greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant."

What does this look like?  Well, pretty obviously, it means we have to reason with the people under our authority, like a technician explaining how it is to his boss.  We have to be their servants.  We have to think about how they need to do this for their own sakes, the way God does.  How often in the Bible does God tell us to do something without letting us know why it's good for us, or bad for us if we don't?

We have to govern others the way we want to be governed, and it means ruling others the way God rules us, which is normally with a pretty light hand.  We like to be persuaded, rather than bossed around.  Being bossed around in an arbitrary way makes us anxious.  Being respectfully persuaded by a servant is reassuring.   It's worth remembering that persuasion and obedience, in New Testament Greek, are the same word.  Look it up.

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