The Tyrant’s Life

A single mom with eight year-old triplet sons went to Starbucks one afternoon for a break. She had spent her day not only making meals, cleaning spills, and overseeing homeschool assignments, but also arguing with her sons about the reasonableness of her directions, defending her authority, and trying to maintain order. One of her young lawyers said something to the effect, “It feels like we’re in prison.” She took this final straw with her to sip some coffee.

A mother carries and births and nurses new life. She has earned her place of authority. Even more than a mother, God gives life and breath to every being. And like so many ornery, short-sighted sons, humanity despises His gifts, ignores His instructions, and cries that His laws are oppressive.

Because God created the world He has authority; the Potter shapes pots. Some pots hate the arrangement and talk about throwing off the tyrant’s rules. We know that is actually impossible, but for a thought experiment, would it even be good to be free from God’s law?

What if the mom in our illustration ordered one too many shots of espresso and didn’t stop after the drive thru for a few hours? The twelve year-old sister at home stands no chance of keeping things together. How long would it be before the brothers became combatants against one another instead of co-belligerents? Would not each brother soon begin to fight for his own opportunity to try the tyrant’s life? This would lead to black eyes if not burning the house down.

When we come to our knees before our Maker and acknowledge His commandments, we ought to be thankful for how good His rules are. It is impossible for us to have no rules at all, and the ones He gives are for life. We ought rather have Him as God than so many fellow creatures talking about freedom while trying to wear His crown.

Where Authority Belongs

It is extremely difficult not to take on the worldview of the world around us. Not only do we live in the world, we used to be of the world, and the gravitational pull of some orbits are hard to break. As Christians we are being transformed by the renewing of our minds and this is part of the reason why our worship is so important. It gets our heads out of this world.

Take, for instance, the matter of authority. God made the world the way He did and He arranged it so that some men have authority over other men. God defines the idea of authority and He created the relational spheres where authority belongs. Those who want everyone to be equal everywhere–a common lust in our culture–fight against the authority of God Himself who made a different system than the one they wanted. These levelers are actually idolators, wanting a different god.

It is, however, possible to love authority because God said it and still be a practical idolator. We are reflections of God, so if we do not bear authority in the way He does than we bear the image of some other god, maybe Zeus, or Jupiter if you prefer Latin, Odin, Thor, or maybe just the idea of being the “boss.”

Jesus said that the Gentiles, those who don’t know God, lord their authority over men (Matthew 20:25-28). Solomon wrote about those who have power over other men to their hurt (Ecclesiastes 8:9). Authority embodied (in Jesus) said it should not be so among us. True authority takes responsibility and gives service rather than taking service and giving responsibility. We are guilty when we deny authority by our politics and by our practices. We must continue to be remade in our worldview as we see the Beloved Son love us into something better.

True Glory Isn’t Grabby

I can’t recommend the whole book by any means, but this paragraph pokes grabby authority in the eye by observing that God gets more glory by glorifying His people. A true authority bestows honor, he isn’t threatened when surrounded by others with dignity.

If God alone is all glorious, then no one else is glorious at all. No exaltation may be admitted for any other creature, since this would endanger the exclusive prerogative of God. But this is to imagine a paltry court. What king surrounds himself with warped, dwarfish, worthless creatures? The more glorious the king, the more glorious the titles and honors he bestows. The plumes, cockades, coronets, diadems, mantles, and rosettes that deck his retinue testify to one thing alone, his own majesty and munificence. He is a very great king to have figures of such immense dignity in his train, or even better, to have raised them to such dignity. These great lords and ladies, mantled and crowned with the highest possible honor and rank are, precisely, his vassals. This glittering array is his court! All glory to him, and in him, glory and honor to these others.

—Thomas Howard, Evangelical Is Not Enough, 87

Even Harder to Find

We may recognize it when we meet it, but we may not meet it very often.

Spiritual authority is hard to pin down in words, but we recognize it when we meet it.

It is a product compounded of conscientious faithfulness to the Bible; vivid perception of God’s reality and greatness; inflexible desire to honor and please him; deep self-searching and radical self-denial; adoring intimacy with Christ; generous compassion manward; and forthright simplicity, God-taught and God-wrought, adult in knowingness while childlike in its directness.

The man of God has authority as he bows to divine authority, and the pattern of God’s power in him is the baptismal pattern of being supernaturally raised from under burdens that feel like death.

—J.I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness, 77. (via Dane Ortland)