Authority has a bad reputation.
Without question there are many in authority who abuse their positions with others. Media reveals examples in the entertainment industry (#MeToo movement), politics, law enforcement, the classroom, neighborhoods and homes, and even in the church. Abuse of authority – of any kind – is indefensible. It’s wrong.
I’m wondering today how we got here and how much of this struggle stems from society’s general rejection of authority. Wouldn’t we do better if we made the effort to reset our understanding, teach appropriate perspectives, and hold up the many good examples of authority that are out there? We shortchange ourselves when we “throw the baby out with the bath water.”
I think that our authority problem is rooted in what our culture perceives as truth. When every person decides what is right and wrong for themselves it is no wonder that we have difficulty agreeing on what to teach our children, how to hold people accountable, and why bad people try to get away with unacceptable behavior. We are caught up in a decline that is circling the drain.
People of faith know that this isn’t a new issue. The Bible teaches us that embracing a relative truth has been the underlying cause of problems, conflict, and abuse ever since Adam and Eve decided to go their own way in the Garden of Eden – rejecting God’s authority, design, and plan. Carry that decision forward over the course of history and it’s no surprise that we’re a mess today. When we ignore the ultimate authority that God designed for us, people “cast off restraint” (Proverbs 29:18) and go all kinds of crazy. Even a quick, honest reflection will show that the authority we’ve chosen for our lives isn’t working so well for us.
The old saying is true, “it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks.” That’s why a right understanding of authority needs to be taught in the earliest of our relationships – at home. God says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.’” To ensure that this relationship isn’t abused, God also says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:1-4)
Our need for a right understanding of authority carries over into the realm of civil government: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain.” (Romans 13:1-4)
The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior.”
As I write this, I have just had a conversation with a neighbor who was out for a walk. True to form, he launched into his favorite topic – his profound dislike for our president. I tried hard to make my point: Whether we “like” those who lead us or not, there is a reason and benefit for all of us to respect the position of authority and to pray for those who lead us. Without it we quickly fall apart and anarchy reigns.
What do we do when civil authority is abusive, like we’ve often seen throughout history? When that happens the answer is short and simple: “We must obey God rather than man.” (Acts 4:20) The Civil Rights Movement under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is an example of this and an appropriate challenge of abusive authority.
There is an important “final part.” Our broken world needs to be restored and reconciled. Without it our hatred and unforgiveness will be the example we set before the next generation and the problem will simply perpetuate; continuing our slide into degenerative behaviors. This is where Jesus comes in. He is the one who offers something new and healing. Because of what He did on the cross – being abused in our place and paying the price for all of our abuses – we have hope for something far greater than the mess we’ve got now. Where we have “cast off restraint,” rejected God’s ultimate truth, and replaced it with our own, we can experience forgiveness and a reset to authority – God’s Lordship in our lives. Where we have broken relationships with others, we can find reconciliation. Where we live in mistrust of our leaders, we can trade fear for the peace of a God-guided future.
Where do you place your confidence for life, relationships, and authority? Maybe it’s time for a change!
Respond: Join me in the conversation – what is your perspective on authority?