There is a prized item that most authorities would like in their box of tools: the perception, if not of divinity itself, at least of a divine ambassadorship. When I am speaking, God is speaking is a powerful warrant. Parents, princes and popes would all like such clout.
Claims to speak for the Divinity can’t be effectively asserted, however, they can only be granted. Parent, pope or king can give every imaginable reason why he should be viewed as infallibly expressing God’s will but only those who judge his claim reasonable and beneficial will grant him authority.
Social or physical strength may give a person who claims authority great power to enforce his will but it gives him no authority. One who forces others to do his will without communicating to them a truth which they recognize is a tyrant, not an authority.
But, some say, God gives authority. God always has power but God has no authority that is not recognized by creatures. It is astounding to realize that our Creator respects that. Even God’s authority exists within a relationship of freedom.
The point of this observation is not to change the attitudes of those who claim authority. The point is to examine our attitude towards authority.
Our choices of those who possess power over us are limited. Every school child learns that on the playground. Our choices about authority in our lives, however, are another matter entirely.
No one who believes in Jesus’ God questions God’s authority. That authority is first of all and ultimately rooted in the perception that God loves us. The authority of anyone who would speak for God depends on whether she or he reflects God’s love for us.
I judge your authority to be true because I judge you to be loving is the key equation we must make. If we find ourselves troubled at those who claim authority, it’s most likely because we simply do not experience that simple truth with them. If that’s so, we do well to be wary.