God’s Laws of Authority:
by Gerald R. Thompson
God is a God of authority. That may not be the first thing you think of when you think about who God is, but it is true nonetheless. Take the great flood of Noah, for instance. Sure, God had the power to destroy the earth with water, but he also had the right (or, authority) to do it. The Psalmist tells us, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.” (Ps. 24:1). In other words, God owns the world He made, so He can do whatever He wants to with it. Ownership is authority – and absolute ownership confers absolute authority.
The Apostle Paul reminds us, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use?” (Rom. 9:20-21). God’s authority over people is absolute.
God’s concern with authority extends to every area of human behavior. “For the Lord is our judge; the Lord is our lawgiver; the Lord is our king; he will save us.” (Isa. 33:22). All of these things speak of the Lord’s authority over our daily lives. As Judge, He has authority to hold us accountable for all of our deeds. As Lawgiver, He has authority to prescribe the rules for our conduct. As King, He is the great governor of the universe, having authority to execute and enforce His laws.
God has also, through the law of nature and his various covenants with men, delegated authority to various people for His purposes from time to time. Part of our task is to discover and describe what authority has been given to what people, and what purposes are to be carried out in what places among men. This question of who has what authority and to what extent, is what lawyers refer to as jurisdiction. Because one thing we know for certain is that everyone is not authorized to do absolutely everything they want, anywhere they want. Everyone has limits on what they have a right to do. Everyone has a limited jurisdiction.
So the study of human authority is essentially a study in jurisdiction, that is, the limitations on our authority. It is every bit as important to know – more important, really – what things anyone is not authorized to do, as it is to know what they can rightfully do. History is one giant object lesson in what happens when people usurp authority, or exercise authority that is not really theirs. And of chief concern to us are those limits to authority prescribed in God’s laws.
It is crucial for us to understand these limits if we are to understand how each of us fits into God’s authority framework, especially the laws of nature and nature’s God (or, lonang). For lonang is both the foundation of all human laws, and the supreme law to which all human laws must conform. To the extent lonang limits the authority we have, we had better pay attention. At a minimum, that requires us to carefully discover and accurately describe the limitations God has revealed.
All laws – whether God’s or man’s – ultimately have two primary functions: 1) to declare which behaviors are right or wrong; and 2) to declare who has the authority to remedy or punish the wrongs (and protect rights). It is the second of these which concerns us in this essay, namely, who can punish wrongs or protect rights, and to what extent. For the most part, I will leave all questions of right and wrong behaviors to another time. It is man’s jurisdiction that we want to define at this time, not scope out a general morality.
This is the great neglected area of legal analysis, government policy, and moral or religious teaching. Everyone wants to jump straight from determining what is right and wrong to the assumption (actually, an arrogant presumption) that anyone can do anything they want about it. No one wants to go through the intermediate step of determining whether the matter is any of their business. As a consequence, people today are all getting into each other’s business – and it’s pure chaos.
That is not the way God intended for us to go about things. He cares deeply about questions of jurisdiction. So yes, authority is a big deal with God. How big, I intend to show in what follows.