The Power Struggle of Obedience

“[To have Faith in Christ] means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him.” C.S. Lewis

Driving on the interstate these days is mind-boggling. I’ve been sandwiched between two lanes on my left and two lanes on my right full of bumper to bumper traffic with everyone driving at least 75 mph. I’ve often wondered how traffic police decide which driver to pull over and issue a speeding ticket for not obeying the posted limit of 65. If the police issued a fine for this infraction to all guilty parties, we could get close to paying off the national debt. It would be tempting to say to the police, “Everyone else is doing it. Why punish me?” We can predict how that conversation would turn out.

When I consider obedience, several pictures come to mind. The first one is of a parent, with a stern expression on his or her face, pointing to a messy room. A child is standing there in the midst of the clutter wondering what is wrong with the bedroom looking as it does. The second mental picture I have is of a hard-nosed teacher with a ruler in hand, standing by the desk of some poor student, waiting to strike.

Are these pictures an accurate description of what obedience is? The answer to this question depends on one concept: responsibility.

We are living when many in authority, parents, teachers, police, and clergy, have abused their power. Obedience can be a power struggle with both the abusive enforcers and the individuals vying for dominance. These misguided (and sometimes ruthless) enforcers must win, at all cost. When an enforcer is more concerned with being “right,” he or she is not wielding their authority responsibly.

What does the term responsibility mean when referring to a rule enforcer? Imagine a two-edged sword representing this responsibility; it is an instrument that has two components. The first edge represents the power or authority to control or manage a group of people.

This edge of the sword requires the enforcer to supervise and correct anyone who does not comply. Some enforcers seek to uphold the rules they are responsible for but they consider and factor in extenuating circumstances. For example, a police officer pulls over a speeding car only to find that a man is rushing his wife to the hospital because she is in labor. Rather than giving the man a ticket, the police officer escorts them safely to the hospital.

Other enforcers are “letter of the law” people. They believe that this edge of the sword gives them the right to think, “a rule is a rule and it doesn’t matter what the circumstances are; you must obey them.” A father, for example, punishes his son for driving the family car without permission. The son tells his dad that he needed to pick up a friend who had broken down on the side of the road, but this father does not accept this as an excuse for breaking the rule. Do I think there’s a time and a place for rigorous adherence to the rules? Absolutely, but the enforcer crosses the line when he/she is more interested in being right than serving the people for whom they have charge. These enforcers wield this sword believing that it only has one sharp edge, but this is an incorrect notion. The sword of responsibility has another sharp edge and that is accountability.

Enforcers of rules must understand that with the authority edge of the sword comes the accountability edge. Enforcers of rules must be accountable for how they wield their authority. They are not given absolute power just because they are in charge. Accountability should be in place for the sake of both the enforcers and the individuals they oversee.

The Bible warns of this abuse of power. Ephesians 6:4 (NLT) says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.” Parents who deliberately poke and prod their children in their vulnerable, emotional state are abusing their authority. Period.

I Peter 5:3 states that those in authority within the church are not to abuse their power. “Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example.” (NLT)

Accountability verifies that enforcers are wielding their power properly. It provides guidance and balance for the enforcers and helps them to avoid abuse of power. Enforcers are not the only ones that have responsibilities for obedience; those that have enforcers over them also have responsibilities.

It would surprise me if there were many teenagers that have not thought that anarchy would be a fabulous state. No one can tell you what to do; you decide. The teenaged brain is not developed enough to think too far beyond this idea so, to them, no rules or enforcer of rules is a good thing. The teen does not have the ability to think ahead to the chaos that would result. There have to be rules and laws in place to ensure everyone’s safety and quality of life. Considering this, all people have the responsibility to obey the rules and laws. Trouble develops when individuals decide that they are not responsible to obey. I have seen this attitude in three different ways.

1. I don’t want to obey the rules because I am my own boss.

Depending on how you were brought up, you were taught that there are rules that need to be obeyed or that rules are made for other people, but not you. By not following up with consequences when their children do wrong, some parents have inadvertently taught their children that rules don’t apply to them. These children grow up to be adults with the same attitude.

Romans 13 discusses the Christian’s responsibility to obey those in authority. Just because many of us enjoy the gift of living in a free county does not exempt us from following the rules. We have freedom to decide but not to decide we’re above the law.

2. I need not obey the rules when I think the rule is ridiculous.

As a classroom teacher, one of my goals is for my students to learn to trust me. I inform them each year that I have rules and it does not bother me if they ask me why I have a specific rule (as long as it’s asked respectfully). I am glad to fill them in. What I have found to happen, in time, is my students no longer need to ask me why I have a specific rule because they trust my judgment.

It’s not so black and white when it come to our view of the rules and laws we live under; I get that. However, if the enforcers have used the two-edged sword of proper management and accountability, we need to trust their authority. We cannot decide not to obey just because we think a rule or law is ridiculous. These attitudes make life far more difficult for everyone.

3. I rationalize why I need not obey.

Attitudes such as, “The government already takes so much of my money. I do not need to report my income,” are rationalizations. “I don’t need to give back the extra money the cashier gave me because they should have check for their mistake.” If everyone could rationalize all rules and laws, chaos would rule the land.

God command us to obey. Deuteronomy 11:1 tells us obedience is necessary for a properly functioning world.

When we obey the rules and laws we have, it is a sign of love and/or respect. My students learn to trust that my rules are in place for their good. Once they understand this, they show their love and respect for me by obedience. John 13:15 agrees and say that if a person loves God, they will keep his commandments.

Obedience is not the most popular subject to contemplate but a necessary one for enforcers of the rules and well as those who live under the rules. Both sides of enforcement and compliance have responsibilities that must be kept in order for society to function at its best.

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Susan Grant

Susan Grant

Just as our bodies need proper nourishment and exercise to be healthy, so does our soul. Exercise opportunities to keep your soul fit. www.susan-grant.com