Authority is loosely defined as “power, jurisdiction, control, command, sway, dominion, the right to govern or rule or determine, implies possession of ability to wield force or influence.” Those are all flat, two-dimensional words however, that don’t really help us to understand.
What is authority NOT? Simple morality. A right, an entitlement, evidence of some kind of ethical or moral superiority. A bank robber with a gun has a kind of authority. So does an abusive parent or a rogue cop or a dictator. Authority is far more about roles, responsibility, and power, than it is about being worthy of that power.
I mention this because about the intertoobz I often encounter these grave misunderstandings of the nature of authority, and when we try to build an idea on a false foundation, the results are often shaky, chaotic, and confused.
First let me say, I am the oldest of 3 kids from an extremely dysfunctional family. I had to take on far more responsibility than I could handle, so I don’t have a problem with authority, I have a problem with a lack of authority. Other people’s lack of authority has often resulted in my having to pick up burdens that do not belong to me.
Issues around authority come up in many different conversations, the first being politics. Government is force, it is authority, it is power. It is not benevolence, humility, and service. It is not necessarily moral or just. A banana republic with a dictator running it is still a government. This can get complex to wrap our brains around in a democratic republic where our leaders serve at the will of the people, but the principle is still the same. Governments form in order to enforce power and authority, to compel compliance.
That is why, even when someone you don’t like wins an election, they are now the designated authority. We respect the office and the role they have been assigned, completely separate from our own moral judgments about their worth and value. Morality does not define authority, roles and power do.
That is why it is incredibly silly to declare, “he’s not my President,” which people have tried to do for at least the past couple of decades. Like it or not, he is, this is your country, and you are under authority. It is also incredibly silly to declare, “our leaders did that on their own without the consent of the people,” therefore “we” are innocent of the wrong doing. When something like Pearl Harbor or 9/11 happens, we can see the foolishness of such ideas. Wars could care less about innocence and consent.
The second issue around authority is when discussing faith and the existence of God, often with atheists. God is good, always, He wishes good things for us, but if He did not, that is completely irrelevant when it comes to the truth of His existence. God does not cease to exist simply because you disapprove, because you have declared Him immoral. A president does not cease to exist simply because you choose to label him unworthy, either. If there is a genuine bad guy hiding under your bed, he is not going to simply vanish just because you have said, “I don’t approve.”
God is good, kind, astoundingly beautiful even, but He could be Al Capone and that would still have nothing to do with whether or not He exists. It is completely irrelevant when it comes to His existence. In fact, if he were Al Capone, you better tithe another 10% and quickly. Things are about to get really real. I jest.
God is also an authority, as in you are under His authority. Whether you approve or not, does not determine the existence or non-existence of His authority.
I sometimes like to say, “He who is under authority, has authority.” That speaks to self governance, to the concept of having been endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. Those words were written by some brave men challenging kingly authority. They weren’t denying the existence of authority at all, they were declaring themselves to be under a Higher Authority than the king…..and most of them gave up their very lives pursuing just that. They stepped out from under the king and into God’s authority.
Self governance, not necessarily in a political sense, but in the sense of ruling over one’s spirit, personal responsibility. That is where our own personal authority lives, and it doesn’t really matter who you are, whether you are worthy of such a task, or how you might feel about it. We are called to rule over our own spirits and in faith, granted the freewill to do so….or not.
Proverbs 25 is one of my favorite chapters because it speaks so well about authority, about the importance of ruling over your own spirit, about understanding and knowing your own motivations, and who you really answer too. Proverbs 25 tells us, “If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink. For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the LORD shall reward thee.” Hot coals where a blessing, a means of staying warm, cooking a meal, having a fire. We are sharing what we have…sometimes with our enemies.
However, Proverbs 25 also tells us, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver. As an earring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold, so is a wise reprover upon an obedient ear.”
We are not simply called to love our enemies, to judge not, to trust that God will handle it. Sometimes God’s way of “handling it,” is to place it right in front of you and assign you the task of saying, “No.” We cannot do that if we do not rule over our own spirit, if we do not understand our own motivations, if we do not embrace our own authority.
I don’t like to relate authority to morality, but I can tell you the reverse is certainly true. Refusing to stand in your own authority is immoral, wrong, unethical, a sin. I know this from experience, from having endured the consequences and seen the collateral damage from those unwilling to step into their own authority.
I have also done the same thing myself, mostly not spoken up when clearly I was called to. I have on occasion, allowed a desire for people-favor to rule over my spirit. I have feared and avoided confrontation. I have been filled with mercy and compassion, sometimes forgetting that “compassion” itself can actually cripple and kill.
A city that is broken down and without walls is easily invaded, manipulated, it lacks authority and personal responsibility and is therefore vulnerable. If we don’t rule over our own spirits, the enemy soon will.