What Does it Mean to Be Under a Thing's Authority?

The Authority of the Bible, Part II: Exploring the idea of "authority" and what it means to submit to it.

Six Authoritative Truths in My Life

“The beginning again, when we’ve lost focus, that’s the whole point.” -Sharon Salzberg

“It all belongs.” -Richard Rohr

“Be brave, because you are a child of God. And be kind, because so is everyone else.” Glennon Doyle

“Understanding leads to compassion, and compassion leads to love.” Thich Nhat Hanh

“Hatred bears deadly and bitter fruit.” -Howard Thurman

“Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.” -Jesus

The above six quotes/ideas represent six of the most important insights that have shaped my life. They guide me in the ways of compassion, grace, love, and forgiveness. They function as compasses pointing me in good directions when life gets complicated.

You might say, these truths are rules that govern how I conduct myself.

Or perhaps I might say it like this: These ideas/truths/teachings have “authority” in my life.

Which is to say, I have:

  1. acknowledged the power of these ideas,

  2. accepted their wisdom, and therefore

  3. placed myself under the authority of their truthiness.

Which means what, exactly?

What Does “Under the Authority of” Mean?

It means that when conducting my life, and when confronted with different options on how to proceed in any given moment, while I might have a range of possibilities in front of me, the only viable options are those that align with the direction and fit within the parameters of the guiding principles and values stated above.

Because I’ve willingly acquiesced to the authority of these ideas (via my deep awarenesses of how true and powerful and wise they are), behaviors that run counter to these ideas are no longer permissible for me.

Three examples:

  • I might (for example, as I wrote about here) really, really want to harbor hate in my heart toward someone. But because I have placed myself under the authority of the truth that “hatred bears deadly fruit,” I am not permitted to.

  • I might really want to feel bad about past iterations of myself and what I used to believe and how I used to treat people (as I write about in chapter nine of The Shift). But because I have placed myself under the authority of of the truth that “it all belongs,” I’m not permitted to.

  • I might really want to silo myself in a bubble of progressivism and continue to judge and demonize those on the right. But because I have placed myself under the authority of, “be kind, because everyone else is also a child of God,” as well as, “understanding leads to compassion, which leads to love,” plus a dash of, “love your neighbor as yourself,” I simply am not allowed such self-indulgent, self-righteous, arrogant postures.

This is what it means to me to submit under the authority of something.

Authority Has the Last Word

To speak of the authority of something is to identify how a particular phenomenon (be it a person, law, idea, etc) occupies a position of premiere influence in a person’s life.

More plainly said: it gets the last word.

The examples above illustrate how the authority of ideas works in my life. I place myself under the governance of these truths in such a way that it has, not just a meaningful impact on my life, but actually contributes to guiding, shaping, and at times correcting me.

Authoritative sources can tell us what to do (guide), how to do it (shape), and when we’re screwing it up (correct).

I played sports all growing up and learned quickly what it meant to come under the authority of the coach. He says run one more lap, we ran another lap. He says show up at 7:30am for practice, we showed up. He says stop eating crap food and start drinking more water, we... tried.

Last week I wrote about the notion of sola scripture, that for some people the Bible occupies a position of sole authority in their life. The Bible is their coach, if you will, guiding and shaping and correcting their life. And this sort of authority, for many Christians (and most evangelicals), is supreme. So where the Bible might disagree with other people or sources--such as evolutionary biologists, or, historians, or, psychologists--for those who adapt a strict “Authority of Bible” stance, the Bible will always win. It always gets the biggest and the last word. (Or, as creation.com puts it, “Believing Scripture to be inerrant, we judge the claims of secular historians and archaeologists against this record.”)

Opting in to the Authority of the Bible

As I acknowledged last week, if you believe that God truly, actually, literally authored the Bible--in the sense that the words on the papyrus perfectly reflect, as it were, the ideas/thoughts of God--then I guess it kinda makes sense that you would then be like, “oh, well we shouldn’t argue with God, and this is what God clearly said, so...”

Viewed this way, submitting to the “authority” of the Bible makes sense. I mean, does it get any more authoritative than the Creator of Everything? If anyone is going to have wise, good, and true ideas, it’s him/her/they. Scoffing at people who then don’t submit to such authority almost seems reasonable.

But once you move past such beliefs about the Bible (as I have done), suddenly the idea of it having an authoritative place in your life becomes, well, optional.

If the words in these 66 books are not exact and precise utterances of God, then it seems to me we are invited to a sort of posture that may or may not submit to some parts of it but not others.

And that’s what I’ll write about next week, some of the ways in which I’ve opted in to the authority of the Bible. Plus, I’ll explain why I think that this “opting in” is, in some ways, related to my many layers of privilege.

See you next week!

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”The Authority of the Bible” Series

Part 1: What is the “Authority of the Bible?”

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Part 2: What it Means to Be Under the “Authority” of Something

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Part 3: Four Ways We Engage with and Experience Authority

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Part 4: The Authoritative Source Must be Good

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Part 5: Does the Bible Interpret Itself?

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What Do You Think?

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