The heart of Jesus’ mission has always been to reveal that God is an authority figure unlike any other we may have known – or even heard of or imagined – throughout our lifetimes. Followers of Jesus have the same mission. Most of us have resisted the opportunity to fully benefit from this mission because we remain hung up on our experiences with human authority figures. We acquired hang-ups as earthly authority figures exercised power over us in clumsy, perhaps even cruel ways and now we tend to automatically hang up on Jesus when he calls us to walk with him through our past experiences to know and show God as an authority figure unlike the earthly ones of our past. I write this post to encourage all of us to listen when Jesus calls and hear and heed the more completely heart-satisfying message about God’s authority and power as he offers it to us. We miss out on the grace of God when we ignore Jesus’ call to share the true nature of God with a world that hungers to know an authority figure of His/Her qualities.
How does God differ from earthly authority figures in offering to relate to us? Let’s explore several differences among the many that exist.
- As we grew up, we experienced parenting figures, older relatives, teachers, coaches and others who wielded authority that we were taught to obey (or at least appear to obey) as quickly as possible to reduce the risk of wearing out their patience and tolerance. When we did not obey quickly enough to satisfy our authority figures, we usually endured punishment in some form, what the authority figures commonly called “consequences” for behaving in ways unacceptable to them or for being too slow or inattentive. Even when not caught misbehaving, we often still felt guilty about violating our authority figures’ rules and not complying with their expectations. We took their values, rules and corresponding expectations to heart and learned to feel guilty for not following them instantly even long after they ceased to be actively in our lives as authority figures. As we adopted their values, rules and expectations as our own, we learned to believe them to come from God “on high.” In this manner, we learned to confuse God with earthly authority figures and failed to see the significant distinctions highlighted in this post.
In contrast, God is an authority figure who 1) holds us to high expectations of progressively greater excellence but not instantaneous perfection and 2) does not punish us nor want us to feel endless guilt when we fail to uphold divine standards in our human lives. Our conscience’s feelings of guilt may be helpful guidance when we realize we’ve not met God’s expectations but God does not want us to hang onto any guilt we may feel. She/He wants us to forgive ourselves and let guilt go because He/She knows that guilt interferes with our freedom to learn the lessons in wisdom and grace that we gain from our failures to fully satisfy God’s standards of excellence. He/She also knows that fear of punishment does not improve our capacity to learn and grow on account of our experiences in life. Fear only inhibits our growth towards the mature wholeness God wants us to enjoy. In helping us to grow strong enough to clear every hurdle of God’s expectations, Jesus introduces us to God’s forgiving nature that we might be free of guilt, no matter what we may or may not have done to fall short of God’s healthiest expectations or how many times we may have stumbled on our journeys. Lightened of all burdens of guilt, we are more likely to gain mature humility and soar higher to clear each hurdle the next time it appears in our lives. God generously grants us limitless opportunities to do so.
- Throughout our lives, we likely encountered earthly authority figures who played favorites and recruited people to their side in order to demonstrate the influence and significance they held and impress us with the losses we risked in being uncooperative. These experiences set us up to assume that other authority figures, including God, would relate to us in similar ways. We learned to believe that popularity and social status are desirable, especially popularity and favor with influential authority figures whose opinions of us might make a difference in how things turn out for us. In the process of relating to such authority figures we may have developed habits (mostly unconscious ones) that came to control our words and actions – perhaps even our thoughts – as we did all we could to seem to be on the side of the authority figures who ruled our lives and remain in their favor. On the other hand, we may have developed habits of rebelling (perhaps secretly) against authority figures and did not allow them to directly influence our lives much at all. From either perspective, many of us failed to develop close, meaningful, mutually respectful and fear-free relationships of trust and transparency with our earthly authority figures.
In contrast, God is an authority figure who does not play favorites in any way and has absolutely no need to be popular or have others on His/Her side in order to be powerful. It’s a mistake to believe that God needs approval from anyone to be the Supreme Authority Figure in the Universe. He/She has no more need for social approval than He/She needs to inflict pain, guilt or punishment in any form on anyone. If you think about it, you’ll realize that earthly authority figures react to our mistakes as if they’ve taken them as personal insults – as if their egos have been bruised by our failures to live according to their expectations. Since God has no ego and does not need our approval, why would God react this way? It is only in the interests of earthly authority figures to claim that God reacts this way so that they can claim that God backs up their earthly authority. Such claims are the ultimate expression of the desire for earthly authority figures to recruit others – including even God – to their side to demonstrate their power. God takes no sides in expressions of earthly authority and seeks only to guide earthly authority figures to exercise authority with wisdom born of humility and to avoid hubris. Since God does not play favorites in any way, He/She does not favor one earthly authority figure over another but rather seeks to guide them all, regardless of the degree to which any may be inclined to listen to Him/Her. As Jesus’ life reveals, as our Divine Parent, God invites us all – earthly authority figures and the rest of us – into close, meaningful, mutually respectful and fear-free wholehearted intimacy with Him/Her even as She/He serves as our Ultimate Authority Figure.
- It is commonly said of earthly authority figures that power tends to corrupt them and absolute power tends to corrupt them absolutely. In this manner, the higher up the ladder of power that an earthly authority figure rises, the more likely it is that he or she will wield power with decreasing empathy, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, humility and grace and with increasing hubris. Studies have discovered scientific evidence of changes in our brains and how we think as we rise to wield earthly power. Although these changes do not occur uniformly in everyone, the risk is great that they will occur unless disciplines are in place to curtail their development. (For more about this topic, visit http://www.daedalustrust.com/ and read “Power Causes Brain Damage” in the July/August 2017 issue of The Atlantic Monthly at theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/07/.)
In contrast, God is an authority figure who is not corrupted by any degree of power, even absolute power. By nature, God is infinitely powerful and yet also incorruptible. He/She never stoops to bullying, bribing or being bribed. If anything, His/Her grace and mercy expands the more we try to no longer conform to the patterns of the world and instead allow our hearts and minds to be transformed as the means of demonstrating God’s good and perfect will towards everyone. That is, the more diligently we strive to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God regardless of social disapproval we may encounter and the failure of others around us to do likewise, the more He/She welcomes us to be close and comforted even in the midst of our most troubling testings and trials. How few earthly authority figures compare well to God on that standard!
- By their nature as “earthly,” our human authority figures are physically outside of us and rule over us while we grow from childhood into adulthood. As they train us to conform to their spoken and unspoken rules, expectations and way of life, they hope that we’ll internalize their dominating values, ideas and attitudes and allow them to rule unquestioned for all our lives as if our parents and other earthly authority figures are eternally with us and as absolute in knowledge and power as God is. It is common for this to happen. We are apt to struggle throughout our adulthood trying to take back our true power from such internalized authority figures in order to value ourselves and recover our freedom to outgrow their training and become our own persons with power to question what we’ve been told.
In contrast, God is present within us from the start – when we were first created – and reigns beneath, alongside and around us as the nurturer of our true nature and source of health and wise guidance. Rather than be a source of rules for us to obey and expectations for us to satisfy, God is the source of all we need to fulfill our divine destinies as Her/His children. God’s resources are offered freely and abundantly to us from within as well as outside of us. Guidance, wisdom, love, motivation and the energizing opportunities of life are some of His/Her most precious gifts extended openly to each of us. We are each God’s favorite child of the model and design we are because we are each uniquely who we are. No one can compete to take our place in relationship with God. If a person tries to compete with us for a relationship with God, that person is merely abandoning his or her natural relationship with God and trying mistakenly to substitute a lesser quality relationship. That’s a foolish choice made by all who continue to fear God and seek to come into Her/His presence disguised as someone else rather than to approach the throne of grace “just as I am without one plea.” Unlike many earthly authority figures, God is not poised to pounce upon us with a judgmental, fault-finding attitude as many people mistakenly believe but rather is peacefully and lovingly at rest within us, continuously inviting us to be at ease within Her/His inner embrace. As we accept love’s invitation to be at ease, we release stress and have far less reason to take on any dis-ease.
- Unless a human authority figure masters the art of humility and disciplines himself or herself to rise beyond ego’s claim on his or her mind, to one degree or another, he or she will engage in hypocrisy. His or her actions will to some degree conflict with each other and with his or her words. He/She is likely to hold differing standards for himself/herself as well as for others as part of playing people against each other or currying favor with some in preference to others. She/He may make mountains out of molehills while overlooking some mountains as if they were molehills. Blowing hot and cold, using double standards and playing games with emotions will be part of his/her typical patterns. Worse yet, he/she may be petty, vindictive, heartless and too little concerned about the welfare of others whom he/she tends to undervalue as a matter of routine.
In contrast, God is free of hypocrisy and remains steadfast in His/Her orientation towards each and every one of us as a divine child welcome to participate in the divine family business as Jesus did. God holds out holiness as the universal standard for Himself/Herself and for us too. Since holiness is the same as healthiness and wholeness shared in oneness with God and each other, it is a high standard worth attaining. It is also natural to us because it is the nature in which we are all created as extensions of the Holy Parent. God indulges in none of the traits of an ego and sustains positive regard for all of us regardless of how well or poorly we may satisfy His/Her standards of health and wholeness from time to time. Jesus told the story of the prodigal son to illustrate God’s commitment to our well-being for all eternity.
I hope that these thoughts stir up hope that many of your assumptions about God’s nature and your relationship with God are based on fallacies acquired along the way in your life. None of these fallacies needs to continue to interfere with your awareness of God’s presence within you because you have the power to change your mind and allow your heart to be cleansed of all fear moment by moment by God’s love flowing freely from the throne of grace to you as a tree of life planted astraddle the river of life. The river of life flows with God’s love for all of us, without exception – no matter what we may have said or done or what we or anyone else may think of us.
I encourage you to set time aside to rest with God as Jesus frequently did as he spent time away from the crowds and even from his disciples. Put down your roots into the soil of unconditional love and drink of the river of life as often and as deeply as your heart desires. There is no more promising way to use your time than to put a smile in God’s heart by smiling there with Him/Her. She/He delights to share your joys as well as your sorrows and other heartfelt emotions throughout your lifetime because in your open sharing She/He knows that you have come to trust that you are best off when you spend time regularly in God’s home within your heart. None of us is banished to live as a prodigal child for any longer than we want to. When we decide to come home to God by welcoming His/Her presence within us, we’ll know it has happened forever.
© Art Nicol 2017