Eric Mitchell, Phd
Our Attitude toward Authority Matters
It is important to know from whence power and authority come so that you can be free to live and work without hindrance. When you rightly order your thoughts, attitudes, and actions toward authority, you are more likely to thrive and flourish. Many of us learn this concept in childhood from our parents. We learn to avoid breaking their rules and to respect their authority. As representatives of authority in schools and government, we learned to speak and act respectfully toward teachers and principals, as well as police officers and judges. Lacking a proper disposition toward those in authority leads to rebellion (even anarchy), and then eventually to chastisement and loss of freedom/s. This is true within all social organizations: whether it is family, business, church, school, military, or government. An individual or organization that has and maintains a proper disposition toward authority finds more freedom and flourishes under the social institutions to which they belong.
Rulers Who Abuse Authority
Unfortunately not all those who hold authority do so with honor and integrity. They can at times act like wolves among sheep instead of as protecting shepherd-leaders (Ps. 82; Ezekiel 34). However, it is possible to disagree with the actions of the prevailing authority and yet maintain a proper disposition of respect and compliance in order to thrive under them. Even still, at some point the nature of mankind leads them to throw off the yoke of oppression (American Revolution) and set up new, and hopefully better, governing authority. Under our system of government like-minded citizens can band together and change our government’s laws and authority.
Limitations to Authority
In America we often speak of and celebrate our rights and our freedom, but we all know that freedom has limitations. Free speech is limited when in a crowded theatre (see the oft-cited prohibition to yelling “Fire” and causing a harmful panic). We commonly think of freedom ending when it begins to infringe upon others freedom and rights. These rights, freedoms, and limitations are spelled out for us in our authoritative governing documents (Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Bill of Rights & following Amendments, Laws, Supreme Court decisions, etc). In Matt 22:37-40, Jesus Christ highlighted the limitations of actions toward others when He explained the greatest commandment…to love your neighbor as yourself (ie. “do unto others…”).
Human Government is not the Supreme Authority
In the Declaration, Jefferson appealed to the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God as entitlers of the position of our new nation. He also identified the Creator as the one who not only created all men equal, but also endowed them with the rights of “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” In the following section the Declaration declares “that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their powers from the consent of the governed.” It goes on to state that whenever a government becomes despotic and destroys these individual rights and freedoms, the people have the right to alter, or abolish that government. As Abraham Lincoln stated, we consider our government to be “of the people, by the people, for the people.” So we recognize the authority of our founding documents, the authority of the electorate of free citizens, and the authority of the ministers of that governing authority (president, congress, supreme court, police, etc). This is fine if we wish to have freedom and the ability to thrive under the authority of our government within our finite human lifespan. However, this is not the case if there is another, higher, authority. Many deny the existence of God. Even if they believe God exists, they deny that He has authority over humans and human government. In so doing, they are dangerously missing the most important source of authority and power (Ecc 12:13; Matt 10:24-33).
God is the Supreme Authority
The founding fathers were correct when they identified God as the Creator of Humanity, “the Supreme Judge of the world” and therefore the originator of all rights for mankind. This is what we see in the Bible—that all power and authority ultimately comes from God. In the Book of Job (chs 38-40) God reveals that He alone . . . is the source of all authority and power over all that exists. He reveals this to rebuke Job for his wrong attitude toward God. If we do not rightly order our thoughts, attitudes, and actions toward Him, we will face His wrath and judgment. This end is not His desire for Humanity, but absent their obedience, it is His judgment upon them (Ezek 33:11). The Bible speaks clearly on authority, power, God’s system of governance, human government, rulers, etc. In the following series, we will explore and unpack these and why they matter to you. The upcoming article will cover: God’s Creation-Governance Framework.
Eric Mitchell, Ph.D.