God and Human Authority

God and Human Authority

Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority.” Acts. 5:29

We must obey God rather than any human authority. These words make me cringe. In the modern era, they seem to be the rationale for all kinds of evil behavior. Religious extremists use this kind of approach to suppress and dominate other human beings. Even to the point of killing.

Critics of religion cite the desire to follow God above human authority as a reason for the wars religion has caused. Some even suggesting religion has caused all wars and human suffering. However, evidence shows, atheists are just as capable of causing human suffering as anyone else. Perhaps, the desire to establish humans as authority is equally destructive as religion run amok.

The divisions within Christianity often find support in these words. When I announce myself as a Lutheran, I need to clarify which sect of Lutheran I represent. If I am with other Lutherans, my declaration will be interpreted as either the sect obeying God or the one following human authority. There’s no need to clarify this sentence. Every Lutheran sect believes they are the ones obeying the true teachings of God.

Today’s reading has a particular context. An angel of the Lord freed the apostles and ordered them to go stand in the temple and preach. They are literally doing what God ordered them to do. In addition, they are not blaming Jews for the killing of Jesus. All the players in this story are Jewish. They direct their accusation at a human authority, the high priest.

Despite the ways these words have been misused, faith should inform our approach to human authority. God is not divorced from the public arena. The apostles preach to help their opponents discover life. Not to lay the blame for a death. Like the apostles, we are called to proclaim life in and outside of our places of worship. Because God has commanded us to share the life we have been given. That is what obeying God is all about.

This command is expressed in a multitude of ways, but finds specific expression in Luke 10:27, Love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself. Both of these require dialogue, prayer, patience, and understanding. It involves the individual, the community, its leaders, and your enemies. It turns out God cares for their life as well. Obeying God should always be about life.

Click to read: Acts 5: 27—33

Reflection Questions:

  • What does faithfully obeying God look like to you?
  • How should your faith inform your approach to human authority?
  • What role does your personal faith play in engaging the world around you?
  • Who do you find needs to hear about life?

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