Seven year-olds Ashley, Jennifer, and Heather were playing on the playground. Ashley beckoned her friends to join her behind a tree. There, she pulled bubble gum out of her pocket.
In shock, Jennifer said, “You’re not supposed to have gum at school!”
Ashley barreled back, “Shh! It’s okay as long as the teacher doesn’t know!”
“No it’s not! You’re going to get us in trouble!” Jennifer replied.
Heather contemplated her next move. She could take the gum, chew it for a little while, then spit it out before recess was over. But, she knew she might feel too guilty, knowing that she shouldn’t have the gum in the first place. What to do, what to do.
Meanwhile, Ashley is wildly blowing and popping bubbles right before them both, tempting each of them to take a walk on the wild side.
Jennifer felt the anxiety coming on again. She knew she had to get away from the troublemaker or else she’d get in trouble, too, even if she hadn’t chewed the gum.
“Come on,” Ashley teased, “it’s not going to hurt anyone just chewing some gum.”
Heather decided against it. It was too much of a risk on her conscience, and she told Ashley she’d see her later.
Each of these little ones live with a certain understanding of authority. What they believe about authority may not be readily obvious, and like us, they probably have little to no idea how this heart-issue shapes much of their decision-making, their mode of operation, and their motives.
We all operate with some understanding of authority. Ingrained deep within us since the Fall is an innate distrust of authority. Will the authority in my life do what’s best for me? Give me what I desire or need? Provide for me? (These are valid questions, but because of the nature of our hearts, they are often tainted with sinful motives.)
But our own sinful hearts are married with our experience, and both of these will impact the way we understand authority. Each of our hearts have been cultivated in different directions by the shape of our personal experiences with authority.
In the course of our lives, we’ve interacted with all sorts of authority figures. Parents, grandparents, teachers, officers, coaches, bosses, managers, etc. And with some, we’ve had closer relationships than others.
Some were kind and loving, seeking our best interest.
But some bowed to our every wish, idolizing us and teaching us that life was really about us.
Some were disengaged, distant or stiff, withholding love and approval unless otherwise earned.
Some caused fear and trembling, from their strong arm, short temper, few words, strict rules.
Some evoked hatred with their abusive words or action, cutting, harming and belittling to expose our vulnerability and discard it as worthless.
Others caused deep, lasting pain.
You may think of many other examples as you ponder your experience with the authority in your life. You may think of what you’ve been taught or you may feel the imprints they’ve made in your heart.
You may begin to see, what I’ve begun to see, that my view of authority shapes my view of God.
I was taught to fear authority, to fear the punishment that the authority in my life could bring – whether that be a spanking, a bad grade, a disappointment. My sinful nature adapted and gripped tightly to a way to preserve my life – never mess up, never get in trouble, never receive punishment or disapproval in any way. So I learned to submit to authority in my own strength with sinful fear and subsequently value the approval of man.
As a child, my husband’s sinful inclinations were different. He didn’t fear punishment. The risk – where he thought life existed – was always worth the punishment (so I’m told). He rebelled against the authority in his life, not believing they had his best interests in mind. So his distrusting heart learned to reject and rebel against authority, unless proving themselves trustworthy, and look to himself to find life.
The little girls in the story above, they all have different frameworks for authority. Ashley rejects and rebels against authority. Jennifer fears authority and its punishment. Heather lives under the authority of the law (whatever law that may be) and can’t go against the weight of her conscience, for she must be righteous.
Some, like Ashley, are inclined to rule-breaking. Others, like Heather or Jennifer, are inclined to rule-keeping, maybe out of fear, self-preservation, or self-righteousness, each cultivating a bondage thick and heavy and hard to bear.
And I would venture to say they all struggle to believe that the authority in their life is good.
Because here's the point: when we don’t believe the authority in our life is good, we wrestle with anxiety, avoidance, hate, performance, fear, apathy, rebellion, indecision, passivity, manipulation, self-righteousness, control, complaining, entitlement, and the list goes on.
So what do we do with all of this?
How does knowing all of this help us? How does walking down some of these painful old roads do us any good?
The fact is, we were created to live under authority. The most loving, wise, powerful, gentle, merciful, gracious, and good authority. That knows and wants our good. God created us to be in right relationship with Him, and that relationship is one of joyful submission to His will and rule and reign, and the benefits of this relationship are joy, peace, rest, freedom, and life.
But we wrestle against this. Our experience with authority tells us differently, and our unbelieving, distrusting hearts can’t make any sense of it.
Then the King comes.
He’s so different than we expect. He doesn’t come in with a strong arm, setting up His kingdom with force. He doesn’t weasel His way into authority, manipulating hearts to follow Him. He doesn’t bind us to a law we can’t keep. He doesn’t lie or seek His own glory. And He doesn’t use words carelessly to harm or carefully to His own advantage.
He comes humbly, as a babe, as the son of a carpenter, as a servant. Yet He comes with power. Power to demolish strongholds, unbind prisoners, and set captives free. But it is power restrained in submission to His authority, the authority of His good Father.
He invites people into His Kingdom,
Compelling them by His love to turn from what is not life.
Asking them to lay down their burdens, not bear more.
Giving them life, not taking from them.
Relieving pressure and offering freedom to those who will simply come.
Exchanging their death for His own and granting life.
Not condemning or demanding, but inspiring their obedience by His sacrificial, enduring love for them.
In this Kingdom, the One who has all authority chooses to give eternal life (John 17:2).
Doesn’t this change things?
Jesus is the full manifestation of the Father. Our good Father, who knows what we need before we ask, who loves us more than we can fathom, and who welcomes us into His presence. Who provides for us, who never gives up on us, who gave His very Son to reconcile us to Himself.
Jesus perfectly exemplifies life lived under authority. And in His life on earth, He also shows us the holy and perfect authority to Whom we belong. And He invites us by His kindness to live under this authority – in submission to God.
This is part and parcel to living in the Kingdom of God.
It is learning more and more how to live in submission to God and learning more and more that LIFE is only truly lived in submission to God.
Because the other part to this story is that God has created us with authority. He has endowed us with the capacity to decide if we will trust that in Him and in submission to Him is life and all things good, or if we will choose instead to rebel against Him (whether by obvious disobedience, trusting in our own performance, or going our own way). He does not force our wills, but He compels them with His captivating love and grace.
Rebellion, fear, distrust, hate, hiding, and others are our natural responses to authority. Willing submission is not, and it requires far more of us to surrender to our King. Surrender says that we lay down our God-given authority and entrust it into the hands of another.
Another whose hands were pierced so we’d never have reason again to believe that He is anything other than good.