Maybe my squeamishness is the result of having grown up singing in church one too many rounds of that cheesy, old hymn, Trust and Obey; maybe it is the outgrowth of having sometimes heard the term thrown around with an almost smug and legalistic pietism that denies the degree to which obedience to God requires becoming sullied.
Maybe it’s because more often than not, authority, be it in our churches, places of work, halls of government, or even our families, seems to be gravely misused, frequently with devastating results. (There’s good reason for the bumper sticker that reads, “Question authority,” which you’ll probably catch in my forthcoming book.)
But I’ve promised to move out of the realm of the abstract into some concrete reflections on the nature of obedience to God. What follows here is the beginning of my own wrestling with Scripture. Maybe you’ll have some contributions- I hope so! This subject is so rich that it could become fodder for a whole series of reflections on the nature of obedience to God in our marriages and families, places of work, and with respect to our role as citizens of our nations and the world.
Here is what I’ve come up with thus far in the way of what obedience to God isn’t:
- Blind, unthinking adherence to an external set of laws or commands, in the form of Pavlov’s dog or the subjects of the 1960’s Milgram experiment
- Externalized behavior only, in terms of a strict keeping of God’s laws (the Ten Commandments) at the expense of a personal relationship with God
Here’s what I think obedience is:
- Being in right relationship with God and inviting God to take the helm of our lives (which is an ongoing act of setting aside one’s own agenda)
- Inviting the Holy Spirit into our lives on a daily, even moment-by-moment basis
- Upholding the Ten Commandments, not for the sake of following rules but because these put us on the path to God’s best for us and invite us into a relationship with Jesus
- Listening to the stirrings of one’s own heart, in prayer, with others, and through the examination of one’s conscience
- the working out of God’s purposes for one’s life “with fear and trembling” (I happen to believe Kierkegaard is right: if, as I’ve seen it tweeted recently, religion is not a solitary enterprise, it is also true that every human being must ultimately stand alone before God and encounter God for themselves; the church can do great damage in asserting its authority over and against the individual in relation to her God.)
- following Jesus…if it is true that Jesus is “the fulfillment of the law,” then following Jesus is the closest we can come to obeying God, which, paradoxically, often means calling into question the authorities of this world and declaring our allegiance to One who is greater
These are some initial thoughts. What are yours? Who, for you, has embodied obedience to God, and why?
And, here’s the $100 question of the day: does obedience to God ever require that we go against our personal conscience? I have in mind here Abraham, whom God told to sacrifice his own son…Drop me a note in the comments section below, and we’ll republish your contributions.