What do you do when you disagree with an authority?
Begin by recognizing that God is on his throne and that he has providentially brought you to this place for His purposes. His will is being done. Of course, that doesn’t mean that everything that happens is good; he brings things into your life, and mine, that he wants us to change. He does not call us to be passive. But when hard times come, even including the sinful acts of ourselves and others, he is using those things to make us more like Christ.
That may include changing our thinking, helping us see things from a different perspective, broadening our understanding of what is good and what is evil. It may include bringing to our attention calling he has for us, work that we need to do in order to bring change into his world. It may include simply teaching us patience, or strengthening us against temptation and sin.
But whatever it is, he has his purposes. If changing us, growing us, is his primary purpose for bringing this hardship upon us, it would be a shame for us to miss it, to waste the opportunity to learn and grow.
We need to trust him.
Our first job, then, is to try, as best we can, to discover that wise and good purpose and pursue it—to subordinate our thinking to his, to act on what we understand his will to be for our own growth. Wise believers have often said that the first question we should ask in hard situations is not “Why is this happening to me?!”—as though life should always be sunshine and roses—but rather “What is God doing to make me more like His Son?”
This calls for honest introspection and careful evaluation. It calls for us to determine for ourselves that God’s will for us is the wisest and best thing, and that we will pursue it no matter the cost. We need to start with the imperfections and failures in ourselves before we set out to change the world into something more comfortable.
After we have begun to clean up our own house, then it’s time to bring careful consideration of biblical teaching regarding the matter we’re upset about. Is the authority with which we disagree actually acting in violation of biblical truth?
This will require objectivity, which of course is difficult when we’re upset or when our own interests are involved. Is a policy unjust? discriminatory? dangerous, or otherwise evidencing poor stewardship? immoral?
There are lots of biblical principles. The key here is to state clearly the principle(s) involved and to demonstrate objectively how the principle(s) are being violated by the policy.
It’s worth noting that our authorities are under authority as well. Employers need to obey national, state, and local laws, even if there’s no biblical principle being violated (other than the requirement to obey “kings and all that are in authority” [1Ti 2.2]). Bring all the legitimately applicable principles to bear on the specific situation.
We need to recognize our own limitations.
You and I cannot reliably discern motives, nor can we know all the considerations in any decision by an authority. Once again, that authority is in place by divine providence, and I would suggest giving them the benefit of the doubt when we know that there are things we don’t know.
Throwing the Switch
If you are convinced that the authority is acting unbiblically, begin by submitting to the authority’s procedure(s) for challenging the decision. Most employers, for example, have such procedures in place as a matter of policy. If the disagreement is with a governmental body, there are avenues for redress in the courts. We should exhaust the legal options before resorting to illegal activity.
If your conscience forbids you to submit to that authority’s procedures for redress, then disobey humbly and graciously, and submit to the penalty. If you do follow the procedures, and the authority overrules your plea, then you need to make the same decision: must you disobey in order to protect your conscience? If so, then do so, and accept whatever penalty the authority determines. In every action, you must guard your personal integrity and resist the constant temptation to act out of frustration and anger.
I’d like to take one more post to modify slightly what I’ve said here about submitting to the penalty. I think the biblical example is a little more complex than that.
But Thanksgiving is this week, so we’ll talk about being thankful next time, and finish this series next week.