Submission to Authority: Is it Freedom or Bondage?

Sharon Theology, Worldview 2 Comments

This week I joined the thousands of Americans who hit the road for the Thanksgiving holiday, and let me tell you, it was a treat. For some strange reason, I-85 dwindles down to two lanes instead of (logically) expanding as you drive into Charlotte, so I spent a large portion of my journey creeping along at about 5 miles per hour. I’m pretty sure I could have gotten there faster if I had run.

In addition to the frustration of heavy holiday traffic, I also passed about a dozen cop cars throughout my two hour drive. And like clockwork, I hit the breaks every single time I saw one, whether I was speeding or not. I don’t know what it is about seeing a police car that automatically makes me feel guilty. But more notably, seeing them always makes me feel slightly annoyed, if not a little mad. Why? Because they’re an inconvenience. I’m a good driver, and I’m not reckless or irresponsible, so it frustrates me that I’ve got these police people constantly looking over my shoulder making sure I’m not doing anything wrong. And of course you never see them pull over the real offenders, the crazy people who weave in and out of the lanes at dangerously high speeds. Where are the cops then?

Yes, my perspective on cops is wary at best.

In general, I think that my attitude towards policemen epitomizes our generation’s attitude toward authority. Put simply, young people have a major problem with authority. We don’t want people telling us what to do, and we refuse to listen because we think we know better. If you don’t believe me, here are a couple litmus tests to see if you might qualify…

-If you’ve ever written off your parents as simply being naive or over-protective in the advice that they have given you
-If you’ve ever gotten bitter with professors for giving you pop quizzes to make sure you are staying on top of your work
-If you have ever sat through a sermon and criticized everything the pastor was saying, or have thought you could lead the church more effectively than your pastor
-If the idea of marital submission sounds like a relic of patriarchal society that should be ignored in Scripture
-If you think all rules are merely a form of legalism

I could go on, but this is a good start. I, personally, have been guilty of almost all those thoughts at one time or another.

The problem is that we have come to embrace a distorted view of authority. Arrogantly, our generation sees authority as a limitation of our freedom, so we buck against it time and time again.

Scripture, however, treats it differently. The Bible consistently teaches us to submit to various authorities, whether they be governmental or church leaders. And while there are some parameters to this submission, we cannot let the Hitlers of the world sour our understanding of authority. We must reclaim God’s true intention for it.

In reality, authority is not meant to stifle freedom, but to enhance it. Authority is a means to greater freedom, not an obstacle to it. The easiest way to conceive of this is to picture a parent’s relationship with a child. A parent might forbid her child from playing in the road or eating whatever the child wants, but in doing so the parent is not limiting the child’s freedom. On the contrary, the parent keeps the child from playing in the road so that the child can play in safety. And the parent does not allow the child to eat tons of sugar so that the child does not get sick. In this way, the parent’s rules actually maximize the child’s quality of life and the freedom with which the child can live. Rather then minimize freedom, the rules increase it.

Similarly, policemen are not on the highway to make our traveling more difficult, but to make it safer. Traffic regulations protect us from reckless individuals who drive selfishly and hazardously. We can drive in freedom because our roads are relatively safe since most drivers abides by a standard of responsibility.

What’s more, even marital submission is a means to freedom. When a wife submits to a husband who is laying himself down for her and is always putting her best interest first, then that is freedom, not bondage. And with that in mind, you can easily see why marriage is based off of the relationship between Christ and the Church. When the Church submits to a God who loves her so much that He would send His Son to die for her, then that is freedom. I have no hesitation about submitting to such a God. And in this way, submission to God and submission in marriage are a means to freedom.

That is why Scripture treats authority as a positive, rather than a negative. Authority, when exercised appropriately, is a reflection of God’s authority over us. That being said, if we have a problem with submitting to authority, then we probably have a problem submitting to God. In the end, that is what this issue boils down to. No, we must not be doormats–authority can be abused–but that does not make all authority bad. Authority is just one echo of the many beautiful attributes of God, which means that rules and regulations do not always serve to hinder us, but to teach us about the depths and complexities of God’s love. The question is whether or not this is an aspect of God that you are willing to accept. Unfortunately, many of us are not, and I fear the Church will suffer for it. Let that not be the case.

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Comments 2

  1. Anonymous

    Enjoyed your post & agree with you. I was wondering whether the people in authority are willing to share the same view, especially when it comes to exercising their authority!
    Submission to authority is a choice that one needs to constantly make!

  2. cindy

    One way submission in marriage is a master/slave relationship. One person has all the power. I don’t see how that is freedom. Maybe freedom from making decisions or choices-I guess that is a plus for some women. However, she is not free if she is submissive. An equal relationship is the norm, and for most people, it is the best choice. Why would any woman want to be a slave-even if she has a nice master.

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