Authority is a word that has become associated with power abuse, corruption and repression. And for good reason, as our political, social, and religious structures have oozed the pollution of self-serving irresponsible use of their influence. We have been lied to, misrepresented, ignored and our trust has been abused by those to whom we gave a place of leadership or advocacy. Naturally we have developed a profound mistrust, and the media capitalizes on it. Besides that, undermining authority is also one of our supreme enemy’s prime weapons for dominating the human race. Anarchy subverts the order necessary for flourishing, and tribalizing fosters hatred so we do his dirty divisive work for him. The misappropriation of power is easy enough to observe in this or any other time in history. Lord Acton’s (1800’s) famous statement that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” comes to mind. The resulting carnage pulls up wheat with the tares.
It is not surprising that in the wake of such pervasive public failure culture has tended towards autonomy rather than authority, insisting on vehemently validating personal preference, elevating either self or tribe to the place of moral arbiter. This seems like a logical reaction to an elite ruling class who enforce rules for the masses that they exempt themselves from. But according to plan (guess whose), once again we have been duped into the delusion of self-rule, and God’s authority is tossed aside along with the rest. Was this the plan all along? Autonomy is seductive! It seems safer to trust our own version of truth than trusting the authority of a God we cannot see, whose character and revelation is under constant attack. If you do read the Bible there is much that is unclear, foreign to the filter of current moral sensibilities. How could a good God …..? Has God said ….? (Ironically, the very first skepticisms recorded in Scripture. Guess whose!) And if we are unable to make sense of Him we feel free to dismiss or reformat the God of the Bible. Is that not what the Pharisees did? Or name any other group of Jesus day – one group insisting on a political savior, another on a law-enhancing Messiah, others rejecting the only person to experience the other side of eternity – all claiming their own superior knowledge. Of course before Jesus they just pulled their god out of the forge. Present day it would probably be a god pulled off the internet. What group would best reflect our philosophies?
God’s word is under attack as it has been from day one. Some who are unwilling to be constrained to the authority of a confusing Bible narrative reject or rewrite it, even though Jesus validated many of the questionable stories Himself, quoting and fulfilling even obscure scriptural prophecies (351 according to some). Literal word for word is not my point here. There is plenty of room for narrative, poetic, metaphorical, historical and prophetic rhetoric. We arrogantly insist that the God Who transcends time, created the entire cosmos in unfathomable precision and intelligence, and Who stooped to communicate with us, must use uniformity and bland simplicity in His language in order for us to accept it. The One Who created us with a capacity for literary nuance is able to wield it Himself with deft skill. In addition, He is required to conform to our present day concepts of morality. This reminds me of Jesus’ words to the people of His day “We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.” They were not willing to receive Jesus on His own terms because of their petulant pride. The fact that the book is sometimes vague or confusing (to us, anyway) does not diminish its truth. Interpretive variance does not diminish its integrity. We can use trees for weaponry or welfare, but the tree remains a tree.
Not only that, living in an atmosphere of cynical rejection of authority makes us susceptible to the lies that would steal our soul. We will not run for help to someone we don’t trust. Jesus says if we come to Him we will not only be made fit for an amazing future, but also experience abundant life during our short stint on earth. I love that the only time the Father is depicted as hurrying is in the story of the prodigal son where He ran to meet his errant child. What a lovely snapshot of God, Who always waits to be kind, to sweep away the guilt of the past and graciously shower us with hope for the promise of tomorrow, even though ‘we all like sheep go astray.’ But the sinner, like the prodigal, has to come to his senses. Feeding on lies about the character of God, no matter how plausible, is not just incorrect, it is deadly! Untruth here is more than error, it is terminal.
Apparently asserting our reasoning over God’s is not unique to our generation. “Yes, they stumble at the Word of God for in their hearts they are unwilling to obey it—which makes stumbling a foregone conclusion.” 1Pe 2:8b Warnings unheeded, the church has historically and consistently been misguided, obeying culture instead of scripture, bringing reproach on themselves and their Lord. We do not have to make the same mistake! Their failure is not our excuse. “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within…” Romans 12:2 jbp
The arguments swirl around in our heads. We have become comfortable, even self-righteous in our skepticism, perhaps feeling morally superior and enlightened in our rejection of Biblical authority. The fact that something is comfortable doesn’t make it right, but perhaps is instead an indicator of its danger. Can we be humble enough to honestly evaluate our doubts, willing to find an answer even if it undercuts our viewpoint? Is there something superior to affirming our perspectives and cultural norms? And here’s the hard part! Are you willing to even entertain the possibility that God wants to speak to you personally? To show you His heart? To lead you to your very best existence? Then you have to pick up that book and listen for His voice, tabling the doubt, skepticism, arguments and disdain. “Those who come to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them who diligently seek Him.” Hebrews 11 ”… he must ask in sincere faith without secret doubts as to whether he really wants God’s help or not.” James 1 Untold numbers of people just like you can tell compelling stories of hearing His affirming voice and proclaim the liberation of choosing His way instead of their own. Are all of them wrong? Who do you think is whispering all that doubt into your mind? Let Jesus be Who He claims to be – your good shepherd!