Saturday, February 25, 2012

Rehabilitating obedience.

Reading the Church Fathers for Lent has already been a great exercise (of course, I missed yesterday's reading, but that's what mercy is for). One of the themes that strikes me every time I read these ancient texts (all have been pre-110 A.D. so far) is their emphasis on obedience. It reminded me of this post from 3 years ago...

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 (which I do not lament, precisely because she produced the children of the 60's), 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" 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 Liturgy of the Hours morning prayer:

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. Don't I know better than my mom and dad?

The first observation is 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.


Melanie B said...

I had to go back and re-read that. The first time through I missed the bit about a post from 3 years ago and I was wondering if you were burying an announcement about a new Ahern among the talk of lime Tostitos.

Erika Ahern said...

Oh, gosh! I hadn't realized that someone might interpret the large bag of Tostitos that way... No, no new Aherns here at the moment. But I still really love these chips. Inordinately.

Anabelle Hazard said...

LOL. I am a subject of the Lime Tostitos, too and thank you for reminding me children's needs take precedence over blogging.