Saturday, November 21, 2009

Rehabilitiating obedience.

Needless to say, obedience gets a bad rap in our culture. It's as if our country spent the 60's and 70's shaking off authority, tradition, subjection, and obedience--some of which really had to go--and now can't salvage the beauty and strength of these disciplines. We got rid of the 50's suburban housewife thing, and also lost the way men and women can complement each other in a home. We were liberated from all sorts of harmful prejudices (real and imagined), and now can't find any reason for the only legitimate prejudice, a horror of sin.

But for the past few months I've been noticing the prevalence of obedience in the Scriptures. What I call "obedience words" also pop up repeatedly: subdued, subjection, authority, to reign. I've also noticed how happy the writers of Scripture seem about all this subduing. These are from the past week's Magnificat morning prayer sessions:

Paul: "Do you not know," he cries, "that if you present yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, of the one you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?" (Romans 6: 16)

And again, "When everything is subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the One who subjected everything to him, so that God may be all in all." (I Corinthians 15:28)

David (or whoever wrote Psalm 47): "The Lord, the Most High, we must fear, great king over all the earth."

Then, of course, there's the whole "obedience to other people" motif. Wives, be subordinate to your husbands. Children, honor your parents. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's. Those can be a bit harder to swallow, because although God may give these other people authority over me, I may not find their edicts palatable all the time. Don't I know better?

The first observation in order seems to be this: Human beings are an obeying sort of thing. That means that, just by virtue of being human, we are going to live in subjection to something. The second point is this: Also by virtue of being human, we get to choose to whom we subject ourselves.

That choice will either make us happy beyond all comprehension, leave us dissatisfied and wanting more, OR make us perfectly wretched and miserable.

For example, I am currently subject (among other pregnancy cravings) to Lime Tostito Chips. Wow. I just have to be munching on lime-flavor-dusted chips every ten minutes. And they leave me wanting more chips. Then I want more. I'm never full when I am obedient to the Lime Tostitos.

I have in the past chosen to be obedient to a debilitating frustration with a college roommate. Oh, that was a tough year. I was wretchedly miserable just thinking about going back to the room. I hated the way she hummed, talked on the phone, and dressed--it was like sandpaper on my soul. That was bad obedience, and it was my choice.

But there is one obedience that has given my endless joy: "Lord, I come to do your will." Subjection to God, and to God through the "righteous authorities" around me, is so much more fundamental than obedience to Lime Tostitos or to personal grudges. It is so fundamental, in fact, that it makes all the other slaveries--to sin and to weakness--seem small and silly. God subjects all the other authorities in my life to himself, and those that are found wanting he offers to take away.

I suppose that is why the persecuted Christians all over the world find so much joy in suffering for Christ. They may be frustrated day-to-day, being unable to raise their children in the faith or profess their beliefs openly, but they know they are not ultimately subject to anyone but God.

I'd like to end this now--the rambling must cease. I am subject to the authority of my children's needs, after all. And that obedience has certainly been a gift and a joy.


Betty Beguiles said...

This is off-topic but I just love the painting of the woman and child on your sidebar. Who is the painter? Thanks! :)

Dawn Farias said...

now can't find any reason for the only legitimate prejudice, a horror of sin.

Mmm.. good point.

Erika said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Erika said...

Betty--I found it! It is called, "Nurturing Arms," painted by Robert Coombs. I originally found it on

She is great!

Anne said...

Great post.Obedience, submission, surrender, give in-all are difficult but draw us so close to the Lord that the joy we feel in His love is worth any part of ourselves that we lose in the process of growing in holiness.

Mary Ellen said...

Wonderful post. It took me a while to realize that obedience is the key that opens the treasure of the Catholic faith. My years of disobedience were sometimes fun, but lacking in joy. Now, I find that even the days that are not fun are filled with joy. Thanks be to God.

Carol said...

This was such a good post. Thank you. My biggest stumbling block, my own pride. Pray for me.

Carol said...

Very nicely put Mary Ellen.

Val said...

Very nice points. Unfortunately, we live in a culture where obedience is portrayed as a weakness that must be flushed out. Only those who rebel, who do something different, are exaulted. This concept is so opposite to the teachings of Christ. Thanks for the reminder of what we should be doing.