As I write this, I wonder what your gut-level reaction is when you read the word authority. It tends to be a word we are not neutral about. The reasons for our reactions can be many and certainly include what we have experienced with authority in our lives. One way or another we come face-to-face with authority very early in our homes with our parents and their surrogates. Soon afterward we connect with authority with our teachers, principals, coaches, and others in a school setting.
Beyond that, there are authorities that govern how we live our lives. Those are as basic as stopping at a stop sign or a red light and go on from there.
It doesn’t seem to take long until we can easily chafe at authority. We really don’t want to be limited by its restraints. More than ever we live in a time when we want to do what we want to do when we want to do it. Beneath that our western culture encourages that in subtle and not so subtle ways.
Sometimes our difficulty with authority can come from not only our experience, but also our confusion of authority with authoritarianism. Authoritarianism means the enforcement or advocacy of strict obedience to authority at the expense of personal freedom. Authority has more than one or two definitions, but prominent ones include 1) the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience; 2) a person or organization having power or control; and 3) the power to influence others.
People born into a Western culture and tradition have rejected painful experiences with authority and usually decided it is more noble and better to think for ourselves. As a result, in this postmodern age, we tend to discredit and distrust authority.
Our path to this place may be understandable, but it leads to a faulty conclusion and anarchy. The world and we are not set up to function well without some levels of authority. Our bad experiences with authority or authoritarianism cause us to believe that our rejection of authority is justified. It implies we have accepted an “all-or-nothing” type of conceptualization. Instead of rejecting bad uses of authority or authoritarianism as bad, we fall prey to deciding authority in any form is bad. We should be wiser.
At a deeper level we often miss that the struggle with authority began in the Garden of Eden. God was clearly the authority and offered our relatives, Adam and Eve, a paradise with one caveat: one tree was forbidden. They appeared to accept that authority until the fallen angel, Lucifer, created doubt and encouraged them to think for themselves. Clearly, that didn’t work out very well for them OR us!
More than ever before in this postmodern Western culture, we need to press in to truly know who the authority of the Bible is and how He governs with love, grace, and mercy. The enemy is counting on deterring us from trusting the Lord and His authority. Lucifer still uses his old devices to create doubt. We can be tempted to believe his whispers and the voices of men and women around us who are not wisely informed. It can be easier when some of our brothers and sisters or religious authorities have also disappointed or wounded us, failing their responsibility to lead and guide as He would.
I once heard a pastor offer very wise counsel at the end of his sermon: “Don’t take my word for what I have shared. Go home and read the Bible for yourself and test to see if my words line up.” Those are sound words. Do we? He was pointing to the Bible as the authority we can and should trust.
God’s Word is the compass, the map, to lead and guide us safely home to Him. Never has it been more important to trust it more than the headlines or nightly news. His Word gives us the interpretation of what those things we see and hear mean. They show us that day-by-day His return is getting closer. Knowing Him has never been more important.
When I look into His Word, I find myself standing on tiptoe in anticipation of that day.