Authority (or "who do I submit to, anyway -- and in what ways?")

I woke up this morning at 5 a.m. thinking about the apostle Paul, authority, reality, and how much the way I believe he saw life colors the way I do. See the following passage from Colossians 3 -- translated by Eugene Peterson -- as an example of this in my life.

Colossians 3 (The Message): He Is Your Life

"1-2 So if you're serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don't shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that's where the action is. See things from his perspective.
3-4Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you'll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ.

5-8And that means killing off everything connected with that way of death: sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That's a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God. It's because of this kind of thing that God is about to explode in anger. It wasn't long ago that you were doing all that stuff and not knowing any better. But you know better now, so make sure it's all gone for good: bad temper, irritability, meanness, profanity, dirty talk.

9-11Don't lie to one another. You're done with that old life. It's like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you've stripped off and put in the fire. Now you're dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete. Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ.

12-14So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It's your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.

15-17Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.

18Wives, understand and support your husbands by submitting to them in ways that honor the Master.

19Husbands, go all out in love for your wives. Don't take advantage of them.

20Children, do what your parents tell you. This delights the Master to no end.

21Parents, don't come down too hard on your children or you'll crush their spirits.

22-25Servants, do what you're told by your earthly masters. And don't just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best. Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you'll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance. Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you're serving is Christ. The sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible. Being a follower of Jesus doesn't cover up bad work."

The other key "passages" to me are each of Paul's letters, but especially his letter to the Galatians and his letter to the Romans and his letters to the Corinthians. In these he gives a view of life, a view of reality, and a view of authority that I have internalized. I'd sum it up like this:

God created us to have fellowship with us, both individually and in community. We were created with a hunger for creativity of our own, a hunger for intimacy, a hunger for discovery, and a hunger to sort and name . . . among many other hungers! And we were created with a huge hunger for exactly what we were created for: a hunger for fellowship (friendship and communion and intimacy and synergy and life) with God and with others. All of those hungers drive us.

God created us within a fixed universe with fixed TRUTH. We can argue with TRUTH or rebel against it or be ignorant of it, but it is there and unmovable. Our understanding of TRUTH and our articulation of TRUTH are only representations of it. They are not TRUTH. TRUTH does not change, but our cultural, linguistic, emotional, mental, scientific, and spiritual abilities to see it cause many different representations of TRUTH to be articulated and experienced and embraced. Good "religion" opens us to look past any representations toward the reality that is behind it. This is humility. We look with faulty eyes and speak from within a very limited view.

As much as we would like to list out the rules of the universe and keep ourselves safe by staying within those rules and teaching them, the historic teaching of TRUTH does not keep us safe or give us a full understanding of reality. What it can do is point us toward the source of TRUTH, the creator of TRUTH, and the ONE Who can guide us through reality toward meeting our own deep hungers and helping create a world in which others can also have their own deep hungers met. The Law (rules, philosophy, religion, science, etc) is a tutor to point us toward this Source and to give us a social framework to allow others to be pointed toward this Source.

I submit to the authorities around me (legal, political, educational, social, religious, cultural) when it is the right thing to do in my current culture and situation if I am truly walking in the best understanding of TRUTH I can muster. Most of the time rebellion against those who possess power over me just gets in the way of fully enjoying the things that I was created with a hunger to pursue -- meaning GOD and the image of God within me and others. I am called to show authentic love (agape/hesed/self-giving love) to others as evidence that I am in right relationship to this ONE Who Satisfies So Deeply and as the fruit of that right relationship. I don't always do that well, but God is committed to teaching me and shaping me if I am committed to telling the truth about my motivations and actions as best as I am able.

Sometimes I am called to rebellion, but it is -- in our context -- rarely rebellion in ways that end relationships deliberately or call down violent consequences. The rebellion I am most often called to practice is the rebellion of refusing to disbelieve my own eyes and ears and heart when those in power tell me I am deluded or lying. The rebellion I am most often called to is this hidden rebellion: to speak first to myself and to God the truths that I see (even when others say they are lies) and then to speak them to others when my conversation with God has shown that there is any profit in that kind of open rebellion.

Sometimes I must leave the fellowship of those who are united in proclaiming as truth some things that I believe are lies or distortions of the truth. I do not need to do this in order to correct them or change them, but rather to push on in my pursuit of the One Who is Changing Me.

My primary authority is Jesus Christ Himself, and the Creator God Whom He called Father, and the Spirit indwelling all His disciples because He promised He would not leave us as orphans. This is TRUTH unchanging, and forms the boundaries of all other authorities and of all my experience of what reality itself is.

My secondary authority is all the ways I can hear and experience and obey this Triune God Who is REALITY itself. I am being taught and shaped by you and by every other person God brings into my life. I am being taught and shaped by the written Word of God that is our codified scriptures. I am being taught and shaped by the shared spiritual practices of my faith tradition and those of others. I am being taught and shaped by the events of life.

My authority is NOT any of the religious or cultural or political structures that are so anxious to create order that they ignore the very real created order in all I have listed above.

Nevertheless, it is not usually in line with a real pursuit of the things that satisfy deeply to rebel against any of those who have power over me in these areas.

Unless it is.