The Freddie Gray incident has been well-documented and extensively debated since his death one week after being arrested by police, succumbing to injuries sustained while in police custody. However, there is a deeper issue going on that the unrest in Baltimore is revealing.
During the time since Gray’s death, authority has been mocked, rejected, rebelled against, and subverted. The people are skeptical of authority and have chosen to take it upon themselves to act as an authority unto themselves. Those in authority throughout the nation have too often given the people reason to be skeptical. As a nation, we have lost sight of the purpose of authority and we have lost sight of the ultimate source of authority.
The purpose of authority
Ultimately, God is the one in complete authority over all things. He is the supreme King and the one to whom all authority will one day submit and give an account. God said, “I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me” (Is. 45:5). He is the one who establishes kingdoms, nations and rulers. The Apostle Paul goes on to explain, “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom. 13:3-4). God established authority to be an extension of His own authority: to punish wrongdoing and to reward good conduct. When police intervene and arrest or a court pronounces a sentence, this is all a part of God’s established authority. However, there is one problem with all human authority: sin
The shortfall of human authority
There is a serious downfall to human authority, and that is the fact that all people are sinful and will therefore corrupt that which God designed to be a good thing. People will abuse their authority and abuse the people under their authority. They will wrongfully convict an innocent person and allow a guilty one to go free. They will overreact to a small offense in order to make a point and allow other offenses to go unnoticed for the sake of their own selfish gain. It has been this way millennia. Over 2,500 years ago, God spoke to the nation of Israel through the prophet Jeremiah, “But your eyes and your heart are intent only upon your own dishonest gain, and on shedding innocent blood and on practicing oppression and extortion” (Jer. 22:17). It should come as no surprise that this would also happen today. Corruption, brutality and the denial of basic human rights is commonplace in authority throughout the world — and it has caused people to become jaded.
The wrong response to authority
However, when people perceive that authority has crossed a line, there is a response that is equally as wrong and at the same time all too common. People tend to see the right thing to do as, “Forget God. Rebel against authority.” Even when the Romans were persecuting Christians, Peter still told the believers, “Fear God. Honor the emperor” (1 Pet. 2:17). Rioting and revolting against authority in response to unrest over the use or misuse of authority is a form of vigilante justice. It is evidence of a lack of respect for authority and a misunderstanding of God’s role in authority. Paul wrote, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord'” (Rom. 12:19). Asking God for justice and waiting on him… That is the right response.
The only hope for authority
For our nation to continue and not destroy itself from the inside out, we must come back to a biblical understanding of authority – in the home and at city hall. We must come back to a place where we recognize the shortfall of every human being. We must not take justice and vengeance into our own hands. We must trust in God’s justice against those who have wronged us and trust in His sovereignty and control over the authority He has established. It is only when our understanding of authority is based in the truth of God’s Word that we can ever hope to have a nation that uses and responds to authority well.
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