A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Love and Obey (John 14:15-31)

There were at least a thousand Iraqi men in the auditorium, most of them in suits and ties, waiting for Saddam Hussein to take the platform. Every man was screaming at the top of his lungs, despite the scorching heat, shouting for Allah�s blessing upon Iraq�s champion and undisputed leader.

Finally, wearing a broad smile, Saddam stepped up to the platform, gesturing for the crowd to quiet down, but the cheering only increased. He stepped back, smiling and nodding, politely soaking it all in. After a few minutes, he moved forward, repeated his gesture for silence, and this time the men complied.

He said, in essence, that they were there to celebrate. But, first, there was serious business to attend to. Several traitors had been identified, and the time had come for them to be exposed. The room was now filled with utter silence; no one dared to even move.

Saddam read the first name, and everyone began to look around for this man. A few saw him right away, and the others only had to follow the four armed guards that seemed to know exactly where he was. The guards took the man by his arms and led him out of the auditorium. Seconds after they exited, a shot rang out. No trial, no appeal. Suddenly handkerchiefs started to appear as the men in the auditorium patted the pouring sweat from their brows.

And then Saddam read the next name. The same four guards appeared, escorted the accused traitor out of the building, and then another shot. Saddam did this four more times. For the sake of posterity and for those who were not in attendance, Hussein had the entire event videotaped.

When it was clear that Saddam was finished with his list, the cheers rang out again, even more loudly than before, with every single man in attendance swearing unquestioning loyalty to this despot.

What do we believe compelled these men to pledge themselves to unconditional obedience? How about abject terror?

Indeed, guaranteed compliance out of abject terror has been the method of choice for tyrants and totalitarian regimes throughout human history. In contrast, we discover in the Gospel of John a motivation to obey that has nothing to do with fear, and which also results in abundant fruit in our own lives.

Jesus said to his disciples, �If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.� As was just noted, obedience can be motivated by any number of different forces, and not all are so overt as the threat of death. In the military, unquestioning obedience to orders is essential to national security. Of course, even in the military, there is recourse for the soldier who is given an order that is clearly immoral. But out of necessity, there cannot be a group discussion every time an officer gives a command. In a time of battle, the commander does not call together a focus group to figure out how to prosecute the war. In these cases, soldiers comply because they have given an oath to obey their commanding officers at all costs, even if it costs them their lives. If they disobey a legitimate order, then a series of painful consequences await them.

In the workplace, people are motivated to obey those in authority because keeping their jobs depends on it. Of course, there are bosses out there who abuse this power, and constantly use the threat of termination to get people to do certain things. Wise managers, of course, know how to clearly define a project�s objectives and then get out of the way so that people can do their jobs. Even in the best of these environments, however, when a decision absolutely has to be made, compliance is necessary for a company to survive and succeed.

While certain types of motivations have justifiable manifestations in the military and workplace, Jesus wants us to obey as an expression of our love for him. Jesus cannot give an order that is anything less than benevolent. Because of our love for Christ, and because we can trust him totally, moving forward in the life of obedience is clearly the best course of action because we know and love the one who commands us.


Chris said...

I made a similar point in Bible study on Wednesday evening. Jesus invites us to follow him, but never seeks obedience through bullying or intimidation.

As an example of the opposite method, I showed the video "John Wesley: Chapel Linebacker." It's a hilarious, satirical look at theological intimidation from the Wesleyan perspective. I've got a link to it at my blog, or you can find it at YouTube.com.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Great clip! Thanks!