Thursday, February 09, 2006

Honor Authority

I recently drove by Vassar College and noted what seemed to be a passé attempt to relive the 1960's: a bumper sticker that still proudly read, "Question Authority." It wasn't out-of-place because our cultural sentiment regarding authority has changed much since the sixties. It just seemed like an unnecessary attempt to persuade people to do what they are naturally prone to do without persuasion. Perhaps it was meant to offer solace to the lone soul who dares to question the questioning of authority. Or perhaps it was to be the balm of assurance that questioning authority is not at all related to the vice of hubris and, quite the contrary, is the only natural expression of the intellectual mind.

Yet still this slogan seemed slightly out-of-place. Telling my students to question authority would be like reminding them to enter their own iPodian microcosm - it is what they gravitate toward so naturally and without, well, question.

But for all of this questioning that occurs in the guise of democracy and independence and intellect, some essential questions are just never asked. Like: What purpose does authority serve in preserving the common good? And: Why do I believe that my own best interest is served when I make my own decisions?

Rarely do I hear the words 'submit' and 'honor' and 'regard' and 'reverence' used in any positive light. The problem? To submit, to honor, to regard and to reverence we must trust. We must trust that someone else is responsible for decisions that affect our lives.

Authority represents a standard of right and wrong and the implementation of the consequences of choosing the wrong. We rebel against authority because we like to believe that both our decisions and their consequences are our individual property. Paul says it best: It is necessary to submit to authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.

Ultimately, though, our failure to regard authority is rooted in our failure to trust God. We do not believe well as Paul teaches us: There is no authority except that which has been established by God.

This is the harder message. It is easy to question authority. It is hard to trust. It is easy to despise. It is hard to pray. It is easy to scoff and ridicule and rebel, it is hard to reverence and honor and respect.

No wonder we attempt to assuage the conscience so readily.