There are times when I sit down to a post and I know exactly what I want to say. And there are times when I have no idea what direction a post will go and this is one of those times. I know where I want this discussion to begin but I don’t know exactly where it will end up. I want to begin with two of the major news headlines: Ferguson, MO and Mark Driscoll. If you don’t know about these news stories, you can do a quick Google search and catch up on all the facts, updates and opinions. While these are two very different news stories there is a similarity that deserves a mention. Both of these stories have to do with authority and the way that authority is exercised within a community. In the case of Ferguson, MO, the authority is the police and the community is the city and the people within the city they have taken an oath to serve and protect. In the case of Mark Driscoll, the authority is the church pastor and the community is the church.
In both cases, there are questions of whether each overstepped it’s authority- Ferguson, MO in the shooting of Michael Brown and the handling of the subsequent protests and Driscoll in the manner, method and approach in the way he pastors, leads a church and staff and replies to critics and those who see Christianity in a different way.
There is an old saying, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” and I think we can safely say (no matter where you land on the two issues mentioned above) that pastors and police officers are among the few groups of people that have a kind of authority that could easily become corrupt. When a pastor teaches the Word of God to a congregation, there is an inherent danger in a pastor preaching his (or her, depending on your tradition) own ideas, beliefs or prejudices as God’s. A police officer could come to love the badge and the gun and the power that comes with them over protecting and serving people.
One of God’s attributes that we often neglect is God’s authority.
What does all this have to do with exploring God? Well a lot actually. When we explore God or discover God, there are a seemingly endless number of places to begin: God’s love, God’s grace, God’s mercy, God’s righteousness, God’s holiness, God’s presence, God’s forgiveness- and we could go on and on. One of God’s attributes that we often neglect is God’s authority.
Since the time of the Fall, we all have issues with authority. We naturally mistrust authority figures. We either believe that authority figures do not have our best interest at heart or that they simply have a plan to destroy us entirely in order to exercise or expand their authority. I wonder if we bring those same mistrusting feelings with us when we think about or explore God. When we explore God are we hoping to find a beautiful lover or are we fearful we will stumble upon an angry and destructive demigod? To be honest, plenty of people have searched for God and come to both of those conclusions.
When we explore God are we hoping to find a beautiful lover or are we fearful we will stumble upon an angry and destructive demigod?
If God maintains absolute authority, how can we trust God and Jesus, as God’s Son and recipient of all authority (Matthew 28:18, Ephesians 1:20-21), not to become corrupted by that authority? We could easily shrug off the question and reply that God is also absolutely good and therefore cannot become corrupt. That response would be correct, however, why don’t we look a little deeper.
Authority corrupts for two reasons: ego and fear. Ego says that I can use my authority to take advantage of you because I am stronger, smarter or richer than you- and I want to become even stronger, smarter or richer than you. Fear says that I have to overpower you because I am afraid my authority is in danger of being taken away.
Jesus defeats the corrupting influence of ego and fear with humility. We see this explicitly in Philippians 2:5-11. In fact, Philippians tells us that Jesus’ humility allowed authority to be given to him. It makes sense that humility is the attitude that defeats the corrupting forces of authority. Imagine the difference in Ferguson, MO if those in authority sought humility. Or imagine pastors or other leaders who place humility before ego.
How do you think our world would look if humility overshadowed our desires and potential abuses of authority?