Like a guy who shows up at a party in 1980s MC Hammer pants, obedience is hopelessly out of fashion. The very word “obey” carries with it ridiculous notions of ancient kingdoms, stupid henchmen, or marital imbalance. Disobedience has always existed, but the idea that our actions should be dictated by someone else is passé, even among Christians.
Isaiah dwelt among a “people of unclean lips.” We dwell among a people of independence. Our heroes are those who will not bow. Our hearts rise to the closing lines of Henley’s poem,
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
I suspect our distrust of obedience flows from our fear of the other–the one whom we are to obey. Why should a woman pledge obedience to a husband who is filled with selfishness and pride? Why should a soldier vow obedience to a government pursuing injustice and oppression? Why would anyone put themselves in the hands of another? We are afraid of the other. What agenda does the other person have? To what purpose does someone else demand we do things his way? To follow someone else’s will is to expose ourselves to exploitation and open ourselves to abuse. No one else could possibly have our good as the highest goal. And even if by some crazy chance someone else did have our best interests at heart, how could we be sure they had the wisdom or strength to bring it about?
We refuse to obey because we see the call to obedience as something foreign and alien to our souls. We hear the voice of the Other and put up our defenses because we think something from the outside is trying to invade our lives, our very being. Our life experience has taught us no one possesses the combination of good intentions, perfect wisdom, and effective power to win our trust. We have become convinced we must protect ourselves.
I believe this lies at the heart of our reticence to obey the Heavenly Father. We resist the commands of God because we are not convinced he is good or his intentions toward us are safe or he has the wisdom or power to act on our behalf. It is an issue of trust. Church people tell us of his goodness, but our experience and fear tell us otherwise. Like a panicked, drowning man fighting against the very lifeguard who is trying to pull us to shore, the only answer is submission and harmony with the rescue effort, but these are the very things our panic and fear tell us to resist. “Work together with me,” says the lifeguard, “and we will get to the shore.”
What if the Person who loved us most was also the one capable of showing us how to live? What if the Person who has the wisdom to see life as it really is the very one whispering instructions to our heart? “This is the way,” he says, and we feel his breath on our face. “Walk in it.” What if the one who has infinite power and authority wants to use his strength for our good? Our struggle flows from the fact that the news is too good to believe: the most powerful Being in the universe is also the one who loves us most. We are afraid of power because we have seen its abuse. We distrust good intentions because we are sure no one has the wisdom to navigate the maze of life.
It requires a daring imagination: what if we were created to sing in harmony with the One who writes the perfect song? To resist him would be to resist our own good. To harmonize with him would be to sing the song of life. What if obedience is not the requirement of an alien invasion but an invitation to our highest good? What if a life of submission is actually walking in concert with perfect love? All fear would be gone. Our stumblings would be met with our own desire to get back in step.
There is more good news to believe, even for those of us who call ourselves people of faith. We must dare to believe that the One loves us most is the truest guide, the surest hand, and fully capable of showing us the way. His way really is the best thing for us. We must see obedience as harmony with the Source of life, not rules and laws and regulations and requirements and chains and bondage. We must discover again that He is the way, the truth, and the life.