Sunday, June 5, 2016
Proper Respect for Authority
Last night I was watching the movie Courageous and took away from it a lesson I don’t think the producers intended.
The movie is about a bunch of police officers who risk their lives hassling people about such things as burned out tail lights and drug dealing, but apart from that it does impart important lessons about integrity and parenthood.
In one scene Javier, a friend of the policemen, a low-skill but really high-integrity worker who has recently fallen victim to downsizing, has just shown a factory owner that he is “faithful over little” at the bottom rung of the ladder, so the owner offers him a job higher up at a pay level that would enable Javier to pay the bills for what sounds like the first time in a long time.
At this point in the story, the factory owner is assumed to be my idea of duly constituted authority. He has acquired the capital needed to start his business by living below his means to save his own resources and by earning the trust of others to get loans for the rest, and he has remained in business by meeting the desires of his customers at a price they are willing to pay.
Unfortunately, that all goes out the window before he finishes offering the new job: one requirement of the job is that Javier be willing to fudge records when the owner instructs him to.
By this time in the movie the perceptive viewer knows what Javier is made of, so it’s no real surprise when he says (something to the effect of), “I am sincerely grateful for the opportunity you have given me to work in your factory, but I cannot take this new job because I would have to lie. That would bring disgrace to me and to my God.”
He expresses gratitude for the things the owner has done right, he refuses to go along with the evil that the owner asks him to do, and he lets the result be whatever God allows.
In that sense, he did better than either Jeremiah or Micaiah did in their respective situations. I see nothing in either biblical account of Micaiah’s confrontation with Ahab that indicates that Micaiah thanked Ahab for what social order did exist at the time in Samaria. For that matter, I know of no instance in which Elijah thanked him, unless his prophecy that Ahab would die because he had allowed Jezebel to have Naboth killed counts as thanks. Nor do I see Jeremiah giving thanks to Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, or Zedekiah.
If a factory owner, someone who for all we know has come by and maintains his position of authority honorably, has no right to ask us to do evil, by what logic does a king, who acquires his status by virtue of victory in war and his operating budget by extortion, become the voice of God?
What Javier said to the factory owner—not “I don’t make the policies, I only carry them out”—is what all government employees should say (mutatis mutandi) when asked to violate their neighbors’ rights. There would soon be no Christian soldiers or policemen or bureaucrats, but that’s as it should be. They can practice their purported trade of peacekeeping as private employees and do so for the glory of God, not some godless political entity.
“In Christ alone my hope is found. He is my hope, my strength, my song.”