Monday, April 12, 2010

We must obey God . . .

In the wake of several friends posting on Dietrich Bonhoeffer last Friday, and preaching about the apostles in Acts 5 on Sunday, I find myself continuing to ponder obedience to God and how it shapes our lives.  There is a deep level of discomfort in this country regarding people who claim to act out of obedience to God.  Americans can tolerate a lot of passion from people, but passion about religion unsettles us.  And when terrorists use their faith in God, their desire to obey, to follow their faith's teachings, as rationale, that discomfort becomes set in stone.

But on Sunday in my preaching I asked what we are to do with the apostles in Acts 5, then.  Standing before the council of Jewish leaders only months after Jesus' resurrection, they say they must obey God rather than human authority.  Their confidence in the risen Jesus led them to stand without fear, firm in their conviction that they were called to preach Jesus to the world.  Even if they were killed for it.  Which many of them were.  Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (see my Holy Saturday blog), their faith in God led them to fearless behavior.

There is a deeper truth here which transcends our discomfort and must be addressed.  If in fact we believe in God, then God must have a say in how we live our lives.  And that means that our faith by necessity leads us to act in the world - politically, economically, socially, spiritually.  Obedience is not something we can opt out of.

So we are left with this question: can we learn to live lives of obedience to God which respect those with whom we disagree, but which also take seriously God's call to us to go out into the world and make a difference?  In our fear of religious fervor and passion, we can fall too far on the other side, the side of quietism and private faith.  What would it mean for us to live in the world with that witness of the apostles, "we must obey God and not human authority," not as something to be feared, but as a way of life which could bring life to the world?  Otherwise, can we truly say that our faith is alive at all?


  1. Joseph: You voice an issue that was on my mind as I posted on Bonhoeffer's commemoration day last Friday: That he can be (and has been) used as an argument for violence in a so-called righteous cause. (Pat Robertson wrapped himself in Bohnoeffer when he publicly wished that someone would assassinate Hugo Chavez a few years ago.)That's why Bonhoeffer's confession -- that his role in the plot was a grave sin -- is no small matter, but it's not an easy issue.

  2. dear friend Joseph,
    the rub is of course, which God? or as T. Fretheim puts it: "What matters, finally, is not wheter or not one believes in God. Rather what matters is the kind of God in whom one believes."
    for me, it is the Christ and him Crucified. as i know it is for you... but for so many people, God is still the angry guy and jesus the wimp who stands between us and God's wrath. i don't know what you do with that, except weep. peace and all that stuff! jude