Embedded in the American psyche is a compulsion to reject authority. We are, no doubt, a polarized country with as many views on matters as there are people. But if there is one thing we can all agree on is that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts, absolutely. It should be no surprise that a nation created as a rejection of King George III’s rule should be characterized by individual rights, separation of powers, and checks and balances. But the idea that we should “question authority” didn’t begin in the 1960s or even in the
1770s. It began in the Garden of Eden. Sin entered the world because our first parents rejected the authority of God and sought to pursue their own path apart from him. And ever since, people have been disrespecting their parents, subverting their employers, rebelling against the government, and dishonoring God. It is human nature to make a fierce, autonomous assertion that we should determine for ourselves what we are to believe and how we are to live. Sometimes, it is good and right to reject authority. One thinks of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s refusal to worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s gold statue, or of Daniel’s rejection of Darius’ decree to pray only to the king, or of Paul’s refusal to denounce Jesus and worship Caesar. Martin Luther subverted the authority of the Roman Catholic Church which had set itself up against the authority of Scripture. Deitrich Bonhoeffer resisted the dictatorship of the Third Reich and vocally opposed the persecution of the Jews. It cost him his life. On this side of heaven, there is no individual or institution free from the charge of abusing their authority. To a greater or lesser degree, all governments are incompetent and corrupt, every police department oversteps its bounds, all bosses get on a power trip, and all parents exasperate their children. There is no authority anywhere that doesn’t have at least some measure of corruption imbedded within it. But as is so often the case, people impose a standard upon their authorities they could never bear themselves. They have allowed the abuse of authority to swing the pendulum so far to the other side that they are inclined to disrespect and disregard all authority but their own. And in a post-rational society like ours, where truth and facts are deemed to be self-manufactured, is easy to see how things can spin into utter chaos rather quickly. However, people can never escape living under authority. Even a deserted island full of anarchists and libertarians will create structures and laws by which to frame its society. Followers of Christ know this. We live under the authority of the written word (Scripture) and the Living Word (Jesus). But unlike the institutional powers that are infused with corruption, God and his word to us always work for our benefit. Thus, when God commands us to honor our parents, he attaches a blessing to it; “that (we) may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving (us)” (Exodus 20:12). He calls us to submit to the governing authorities because they have been given the power of the sword to preserve order and well-being in society. It’s for our benefit to honor those who govern us because rebellion against them brings judgment (Romans 13:1-7). And we honor God’s authority not only because we have been created by him and for him, but also because “he works all things for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Submitting to God as he reveals himself in Scripture may mean that we question human authorities. It may mean that we rebel against them. It may mean that we submit to them to the point of suffering. But in no instance will we seek to remove ourselves from the authority of God, for doing so is a fools’ errand. Entrusting ourselves to God when the outcome is uncertain (from our perspective) or is certain to be uncomfortable is where the rubber meets the road in our Christian discipleship. But when we do submit to God's rule and reign, we can know that God will bless it, because when we seek his glory – no matter what the cost – he always pursues our joy.