Submission to authority is a tricky act. Questions are often posed relating to “how much submission?”, “To which authorities?”, or “How are we even to know these things?” Christ talks about authority often enough, but not too often with direct commands as how we should live our lives. Take Matthew 22:21 for example:
Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.”
Vague? Yes. Even Wikipedia lists this story as reasons for paying taxes and not paying taxes. For submitting to authority and resisting authority. In order to further discuss the situation I want to include a few quotes from a book I recently read that I think have some pertinence to this topic. To put the quotes in context, they are referring to the Germans in 1933-45.
A member of the pre-Hitler Prussian cabinet, asked what caused Nazism, said: “What caused Nazism was the clubman in Berlin who, when he was asked about the Nazi menace in 1930, looked up from his after-lunch game of Skat and replied, ‘Dafur ist die Regierung da. That’s what the government’s there for.'”
This immense hierarchism, based upon blind servility in which the man on the third rung would never dare to imagine that the man on the second would order him to do something wrong, since, after all, the man on the second had to answer to the man on the first, nourished the buck-passing instinct to fantastic proportions.
I hope that anyone reading these quotes don’t think that the Germans acted according to Christ’s words in such submission to the authority over them. There is such a thing as righteous governance and unrighteous governance. Sadly, the above quotes showed that many Germans didn’t get that concept at the time. Do we get that concept any better here in the States? God, I pray so. Luckily we haven’t gone as far down that path as the Nazi government did in Germany, but if we don’t look for ourselves in the horrid acts of others, we will probably be like the man in the Skat game, and not consider ourselves and assume someone else will take care of it – “That’s what the government’s there for.”
Men who learn to live this way get used to it and even like it. It is workable, too; good discipline produces, at least in limited areas, the same performance as good self-discipline. The only objection to the scheme is that men who always do as they’re told do not know what to do when they’re not. Without the thoughtful habit of decision, they decide (when they must decide for themselves) thoughtlessly. If they are forbidden to beat Jews, they learn how not to want to, something a free man who wants to beat Jews never learns; then, when they are allowed to, the release of their repressed wish to beat Jews makes maniacs of them.
This last quote is of particular interest to me. While it does relate to the above on submission and authority, there is something else here of personal nature I’d like to tell you. Quite a few years ago – but not more than a decade – I told a friend that if I had positively lost my faith, had absolutely learned/decided that there was no Christ, no God, and became an utter atheist; that I would probably go on a “sin rampage”. Sleep around, swear, or whatever, because I had lost the basis for acting the way I did.
I disagree with what I said those many years ago, but I see that thought in the quote above about “learn[ing] how not to want to [do something bad]”. That was me. I had grown up in a Christian environment, I had been a Christian for practically my entire life, yet here I was spouting words that showed that I didn’t understand the difference between being forbidden to do acts, and acting like a free man. In fact, I can draw a corollary between the Old Testament and the New Testament here. If you don’t see it, allow me to explain. The Old Covenant was very law based, do this, don’t do this. The New Covenant by Christ gave us freedom. Not necessarily freedom from the Law, like the German who became free to beat Jews, but freedom in the sense of the free man who didn’t need to learn not to beat the Jews. In my earlier years, I obviously needed the Law to prevent me from acting sinfully. The conversation with my friend that I related above showed me that. Thank God that I am now free from that. I live my life the way I do, not because of some law placed down by an authority (regardless of whether the law is beneficial and righteous or not), but because that as a free man I understand “the fact that law is not made for a righteous person”, and through Christ I am becoming more and more righteous every day. I may be only at the very beginning of a long journey, but I am no longer on the side of needing the law to forbid me from doing the acts I used to want to do. I am horribly far from perfect, but for the work that Christ has done in me I praise and thank Him.
This post is a continuation of a long series of commentary on quotes pulled from They Thought They Were Free, the Germans 1933-45 by Milton Mayer. The book itself is home to a lot of revelations to the nature of people and I do recommend reading it. To see the short review of the book itself please click this link, as well as this list of other commentary like this one.