Sunday, August 25, 2013

Why Do We Hate Authority?

"Our legacy has led us to read authority as authoritarianism, and seriously to be misled in requiring unconditional freedom in every legitimate human act. We bristle at the word authority. That's why often in this chapter I have opted for the words directions, guides, coaches. But we must see that our actual dependence on authority remains.” Esther Lightcap Meek from Longing to Know, page 103

From the beginning of our lives, we are set under authorities. Our parents teach us who we are in regards to position in our family. They feed us, hug us, talk to us, and love us (hopefully). Teachers instruct us in reading, math, science, history, and Bible. We are born under a government which enforces laws and allows for a peaceful life. If we are Christians in a good church we are under the authority of elders and deacons and pastors.

In the same way that our parents and teachers were given wisdom by their parents and teachers and pastors, we are caught under the umbrella of authority whether we like it or not. It is inherent to the human experience of life, and no desire of trying to rid ourselves of authority can work itself out. Considering yourself as the ultimate authority for truth is stupid and na├»ve and does not fit into our life experience, as we trust a doctor to tell us what’s wrong with us medically, a plumber to know why our pipes are clogged, and a referee to coach a fair basketball game.

So why the problem when it comes to one of the most inherent parts of being human: our religious nature? The question is not so much of authority as whom or what a trustworthy authority is. We have all experienced bad authority in our lives whether it be the Umbridge-like prinicipal on the power trip, the police officer who loves to hand out tickets, the father who rules with an iron fist, or the drug addict mother who cared more about getting high than loving her child.

Really, what we despise is authoritarianism, not authority. We despise bad authority, and we have had so many terrible teachers and authorities in our lives that we become skeptical of any authority at all. In reality, we truly desire to be led. We desire our teachers to be faithful and loving and gracious, and we are drawn to people who show themselves to be trustworthy. We desire fathers who disciplined us, showed us the path of life, and we desired mothers who loved us beyond our sinful tendencies, who nursed us as little children and taught us about Jesus.

I realize that I am less skeptical of authority because I had good parents. Upon hearing someone say recently that women in the church don’t know their Bible’s well enough to train up the younger women I exclaimed, “Ya’ll need to meet my mother!” My father taught me and constrained me to work hard as working for the Lord, and taught me to fight for truth of the gospel no matter who stood in front of you.

Our experience can tell us that some authorities are untrustworthy, but it cannot tell us that all authorities are untrustworthy. As Esther Meek states, “The move to reject authority was warranted but not justified” (103). We all look up to someone.  Whether we like it or not, we trust people who commend themselves to us as trustworthy. Why else would we pay more money for the family doctor we trust and who has seen us grow up, rather than the new doctor who doesn’t know us at all? Why would we go to the barber down the street who knows exactly what haircut we desire and has cut our hair for years, rather than going to a new haircutter who doesn’t know us at all? It’s because we know who the true authorities are and we trust them!

My friend told me recently about a conversation he had with an unbeliever who said that he couldn’t believe in the Bible because the New Testament writers were all about control. Now this is a true and false statement. He meant that the New Testament writers were desirous of controlling people’s lives in a self-centered way. This comes from someone who has obviously not read the New Testament.

The Christian religion is about control in a sense. I’m constrained by the grace of God to love him and know him and enjoy him and glorify him. Control is inherent to our lives as humans: If we want to play basketball, we have rules. If we want to talk to someone we don’t know, there are certain unspoken social rules (i.e. personal bubble or power distance). If we want to drive our car on government roads, there are rules of the road and cops to give you tickets if you break them. In every area of human existence there are rules, certain controls we live by. Do we expect that this is somehow different in regards to religion? Without control, we simply can’t have a semblance of the lives we live.

Now God has shown himself to be utterly trustworthy. He was never broken a promise. Jesus came, lived, died, resurrected, and ascended to heaven. Upon reading the Apostles one sees that their authority is justified because of their proximity to Jesus. I think it is telling that Paul, when writing to Philemon, said that he could command him to release Onesimus on the basis that he was an Apostle. But Paul prefers, he writes, to appeal to Philemon for love’s sake. Why would Paul do that if he were only about control?

I heard the late Christopher Hitchens say once that Christians have good evidence for believing the resurrection, but who cares? A lot of crazy things happen in this world, and it doesn’t mean that Jesus was the son of God.

This statement logically makes sense (a lot of crazy things do happen in the world!), but it cannot be proved scientifically, just as the resurrection of Christ cannot be known or proved scientifically (I mean it is historical but cannot be scientifically verified for us). The question is, is Jesus a trustworthy authority? Are the Apostles writing as men who are trustworthy? And can we trust their message today?

That answer is yes, Jesus and the apostles are trustworthy. Can we know truth in the modernist sense, 100% no doubt about it? Well, human experience is not lived that way, meaning we don’t come to know that way. We don’t believe in historical facts because they are 100% verifiable. They could be lying to us! We believe in things because the facts line up, the evidence shows itself commendable, and our lived experience proves that certain things are true and others are false. We simply have confidence in trustworthy authorities and guides, through whom we come to see the world. Jesus gave us ears to hear his call, and he gave us eyes to see who he truly was (and is).

We believed his call when he said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Learn from Jesus. He is trustworthy. Have we not found rest for our souls? Have we not been freed from sin’s guilt and power? Have we not found the joy of living in light of Jesus presence and indwelling Holy Spirit? Take him as your authority, over and against all other false authorities who boast arrogance and pride. Muslim’s have no surety, no anchor or trust that they will be saved when they die. “Perhaps Allah will have mercy on me.” Would you trust your parents if they said, “Well, maybe I’ll pick you up from school today. We’ll see.” Or what if they said, “If you get and A today I’ll pick you up from school?” Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses have no surety, for they must work for their salvation as well. They believe contra the trustworthy Apostles, that Jesus is a mere man. What an untrustworthy authority must their god be! All other religions are self-made religions. No surety.

But on Christ our surety stands! Jesus (God and man) is the authority that frees us through grace. I trust that God will be true to his promises because he has never been otherwise. He says, “You are forgiven, you are justified” in a similar way that my parents say “I’ll be there for you." But God, king over heaven and earth, tells me I am forgiven to the nth degree, far and above the trustworthiness of my parents. King David trusted God, and God proved through David's life that he was faithful and able to accomplish all his purposes, despite David's sins and failures. And this is how it has always been. With Abraham, with Adam, with Enoch. They believed and God was faithful. The promise of God is inherent in his name “I am who I am.” God will be because he will be. He loves us because he loves us.

Let’s not throw off authority, for “Bad use of authority, we should see, does not entail the rejection of authority, for the rejection of authority is impossible” (103). Let’s place our trust in the most trustworthy authority we can find: God himself. Always true, always faithful. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…”

***All references are from Esther Lightcap Meek’s book Longing to Know. The thoughts of this blog post were born and fleshed out of that work.

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