Our culture is very suspicious of authority and power. Consider the following popular sayings on the subject:
- Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely!
- Dissent is patriotic!
- A rebel without a cause!
Goodness, even our country was founded through rebellion from the government in favor of a new one. Suspicion of authority and an abhorrence of accumulating too much power in one place is practically hard-wired into our society.
the trouble with our Lord
Maybe it was only a matter time, but this cultural tendency has finally invaded Christianity. Many people today who call themselves Christians are fine with a God who saves us and loves us, but are suspicious of a God who rules and judges. We’re so used to believing that “absolute power corrupts absolutely” that it’s difficult to remember that God is exempt from this modern proverb. We talk about “accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior” but too often we just want him as our Savior, and not as Lord. When we say God calls us into relationship with His Son, too often we reduce that to a buddy-buddy friendship with Jesus, where he is our loving guide and brother on the road of life, leaving out the aspect of the relationship wherein he is our King, our Master, our elder brother who inherits the throne.
These issues don’t even necessarily stem from bad things in our religious culture. As we have fought hard, long, and (arguably) well against slavery, racism, sexism, and the like, we have seen some great victories for the social implications of the Gospel of Christ. But along the way, some of us seem to have gotten confused about the images of God in the Bible that use those institutions in question. We’ve worked so hard for the equality of women that it gets murky as to the meaning of God being our Father. We’ve fought against slavery of various types so long that perhaps we’re losing sight of what it means to be slaves to Christ.
reclaiming our Lord
Part of the trick to these two examples in particular is that the Gospel doesn’t so much abolish patriarchy and slavery so much as it redefines those relationships. God as Father doesn’t mean he’s a tyrant. He has shown us that a true father sacrifices everything for his family – the family doesn’t exist to serve his whims, but he exists to care for his family. Similarly, Jesus has shown us that the husband is not to control his wife unquestioningly, but to lay down his life for her. The purpose of authority is not power and control, but service and love. It’s the same deal with the slave image – we are servants or slaves of Christ, bearing the burden and yoke of his law. But Christ’s yoke is easy, and his burden light, because he works alongside us. He is the Master and we are the slaves, but he’s not a slave-driver; he treats us like family and rolls up his sleeves to dive into the dirtiest work along with us.
It is precisely in these unpopular images of God that we most vividly see how the “King Jesus” and “Friend Jesus” images merge into one. He is our Master, but he labors with us; he is our Father/Husband, but he sacrifices everything to protect and save us.
This way, we don’t have to resort to an artificial separation of seeing Jesus as our Lord and our Savior. He isn’t, on one hand, the boss we must obey with fear and trembling, and on the other hand, our best friend who will never abandon nor hurt us. He’s both, in one, at the same time. Neither image adequately describes him on its own. If we find ourselves in believing in a Jesus who’s just one or the other, then we have created our own personal Jesus to suit our own personal needs, desires, or fears. That is not the Jesus whom the Church proclaims.
relating to our Lord & Savior
Realizing this healthy balanced image is very helpful for us. Throughout scripture there is a complex interplay between the twin concepts of loving God and obeying God. We cannot truly love God without obeying his commands, nor can we truly obey his commands without loving him. (The 1st epistle of John explores this theme in particular depth.) This union of love and obedience is directly related to God’s union of identity of King/Lord with Friend/Savior. With God as our Lord and King, we must obey him, his commandments, and even those whom he places in authority over us, be it Church or State. With God as our Friend and Savior, we must love him, his gospel, and even those whom he made.
We can no more separate our response of love & obedience than we can God’s identity as Lord & Savior. He is both, we must respond to both. Fall down before him, worship and adore him. Get up and follow him, hear and obey him. Loving God is not some sappy praise-song thing, nor is obeying God some stuffy old-school tradition. We are his subjects and his family. For His sake, we’ve got to act like it!