Tag Archives: Irony

Wrestling with Subjection to Authority

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.
Romans 13:1 (NIV)

For the record, I don’t belong to any political party.

I was just reminded this morning of a passage in The Lord of the Rings when Pippin asks the Ent, Treebeard, whose side he was on. “Side?” Treebeard replies. “I’m on no one’s side, because no one is on my side.”

Along my life journey I have respected certain leaders from both of the major parties here in the States, and I have had personal disdain for leaders from both of the major parties. I’m thankful for living in a representative republic. There is always the possibility of change in every election cycle.

Paul is writing his letter to followers of Jesus in Rome during the time of the Roman Empire. One of the reasons the Romans were able to control such a large area of the western world for such a large period of time was the fact that Rome tended to bring and maintain a certain amount of law and order wherever they ruled. While there were always those unhappy with Roman occupation, there was a certain understanding among the common population that the system of Roman law and order was better than the chaos which was often the reality when a local tyrant or warlord reigned.

In today’s chapter Paul provides a fascinating perspective as he tells the followers of Jesus living in Rome itself to be subject to governing authorities, to pay their taxes, and to respect those in authority. This is the Roman Empire. The Jewish authorities in Jerusalem, whom Paul once worked for, have an entire terrorist network developing which is going to erupt into outright rebellion in about 20 years from the writing of Paul’s letter. Even one of the Twelve apostles came out of the anti-Roman Zealots. But Paul is direct, authoritative and unequivocal in stating that authority is a construct of God, so we must respectfully subject ourselves to government authority.

A couple of thoughts on this. Underneath Paul’s teaching on this matter is an understanding that on the eternal, cosmic, Level 4, Great Story perspective all things are moving toward the end of the Story, which is already written. If we want to get into the notion of God and eternity existing outside of the dimension of time then one might argue that it’s already happened. Maybe you need another cup of coffee before wrapping your brain around that.

There is also plenty of precedent from the Old Testament (Paul was a lawyer by training, remember) that God raises up and uses certain kings and rulers (Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar, for example) who were not the most benevolent leaders. Even David respected and viewed Saul as God’s appointed authority and refused to depose and kill the mad king when he had every reason and opportunity to do so. In telling the Roman believers to subject themselves to their Roman authorities, Paul was channeling thinking and teaching that was quite ancient.

Then there is the most fascinating fact that Paul is a Roman citizen. This is no small detail. It’s a huge deal in his day and age. Roman citizenship was extremely hard to come by and afforded the person all sorts of perks in Roman society. Paul states elsewhere that he was born a Roman citizen, so he grew up enjoying the protection and status of that citizenship. Paul will soon use that status to appeal his upcoming conviction to Caesar himself. Paul will end up a prisoner in Rome itself.

What’s ironic is that Paul and the believers he’s writing to in Rome will be scapegoated by Caesar, blamed for the Great Fire of Rome to cover up Caesar’s own culpability, and they will be persecuted mercilessly. The Roman authorities to whom Paul is telling the believers to submit will throw them in prison, cover them in wax and light them on fire (while still alive) to illuminate Caesar’s garden, feed them to the lions in the Coliseum, and execute Paul by chopping of his head. By the way, beheading was another perk of Roman citizenship. If Paul had not been a citizen he’d have suffered a much more agonizing death by crucifixion, which was the gruesome fate awaiting Peter in Rome.

Would knowing the end awaiting him change Paul’s charge to subject themselves to Rome’s authority? I don’t think so. A few weeks ago I reminded our local gathering of Jesus followers that Jesus told Peter about the death by crucifixion that was awaiting him after His resurrection. Once again, the present, Level 1 daily circumstances were lived with an eternal, Level 4 perspective.

This is one of those mornings when, in the quiet, I have more questions than answers. What about…? What if…? Despite all the questions, I’m reminded that I’m not always going to like those in authority. I’m reminded that being respectful and lawful is part of being a “living sacrifice” (see yesterday’s post). I’m reminded that Jesus subjected himself to cruelty and a completely unjust execution after a series of kangaroo court trials before religious, secular, regional, and Roman authorities to whom He was always respectful. He knew that his Level 1 circumstances had Level 4 purpose. So did Peter. So did Paul.

That is whose footsteps I’m following.

God’s Editorial Metaphor

Taking a person or issue and layering it in a different metaphorical imagery has long been a way we humorously address subjects and issues. In this editorial cartoon Steve Sack cloaks "trans fats" as one of the Biblical four horsemen of the apocalypse.
Taking a person or issue and layering it in a different metaphorical context has long been a way we humorously address subjects and issues. In this editorial cartoon Steve Sack cloaks “trans fats” as one of the Biblical four horsemen of the apocalypse. In today’s chapter, God uses a similar device in delivering a prophetic editorial against the King of Tyre.

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, take up a lament concerning the king of Tyre and say to him: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says:

“‘You were the seal of perfection,
    full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
You were in Eden,
    the garden of God;'”
Ezekiel 28:11-13a (NIV)

Editorial writers and cartoonists have a very long history of using imagery and irony in the skewering of their political targets. They will often place a person in a different metaphorical context to make a thought provoking point in humorous fashion. No matter which side of the aisle you find yourself, a quick Google search will yield several examples that will tickle your funny bone while your spirit cries a political “Amen!” to the point being delivered. [Note: For the sake of my friends on both sides of the political spectrum I have chosen the benign issue of nutrition for my illustrative example at the top of this post.]

In today’s chapter, God takes up the editorial pen against the King of Tyre. He’s already delivered strong messages against Tyre as a city state (Ezekiel 26), and an even more narrowly targeted message against the merchant class (Ezekiel 27). Now, God whittles His message down to the King of Tyre in an individual rebuke.

God uses irony and imagery, picturing the King of Tyre as Adam in the Garden of Eden before the fall. He figuratively dresses the monarch with the adornments of a high priest. The metaphor is clear. The King of Tyre thinks he’s all that. He believes himself to be human perfection, to be Adam (the first of creation, created sinless in the Garden) and Aaron (the first High Priest, the chosen of God to be the mediator between God and humanity) rolled into one. Apparently, the crown royal of Tyre fashioned himself as a god on Earth as many monarchs did throughout ancient history. God, through Ezekiel, muses on whether the king will feel so divine bowing before those who will kill him.

Today, I’m thinking about the myriad of metaphorical ways in which Creator God layers His messages. I’m thinking about the myriad of metaphorical ways in which we as humans, made in the image of the Creator, can layer our message to individuals, to audiences, and to the world around us. I need and want to continue becoming a better and more effective communicator.