The word “autonomy” simply means “self-rule.” And I actually believe that autonomy is GOOD, in proper context. However, it seems hard to reconcile this with what I believe the Bible teaches. But although it “seems” hard, it’s not. Follow me through this line of thought.
Self-rule: Isn’t that Biblically bad?
The Old Testament takes its readers through a roller coaster ride. The first five books, best known as the Torah (Christian theologians call it the “Pentateuch”) are Moses account of God’s creation and dealings with humanity (Genesis 1 through 11) and then God’s creation and dealings with the nation of Israel (Genesis 12 through the end of Deuteronomy). At the end of Deuteronomy, Moses dies.
Then, God appoints Joshua as Israel’s leader. Joshua is faithful, and Israel mostly follows his leadership. Therefore, Joshua is a book of victory, as the people of Israel (none of whom are trained soldiers) win military victory after military victory, because they had faith in God.
And then, after this high of victory, the reader comes across the book of Judges. Judges is, to the Bible, what every “2” of almost any trilogy is. It leaves you with this sucky feeling, like something has to be fixed.
Yes, Judges is the “Empire Strikes Back” of the Bible. The “Attack of the Clones” of the Bible. The “Goblet of Fire” of the Bible. The “Matrix Reloaded” of the Bible. There are victories in there…but the overarching theme is that things are messed up.
Anyway, one of the main motifs of the book of Judges is that every so often it says something along the lines of “In those days, there was no king in Israel, and every man did what was right in his own eyes.” The mark of Israel’s failure wasn’t that “they did bad stuff that they knew was bad.” Rather, that they decided on their own view of morality.
However, self-rule is no worse than any other ruler, Biblically speaking.
In the book of Samuel, the people demand of God a human king. God warns them, but then grants them their wish. You see, Israel was supposed to be a theocracy, ruled by God Himself. But He consents to them and grants them a human king.
Now, although there were some good kings, Israel found itself in just as bad of a state under these kings as it did when “every man did what was right in his own eyes.”
What does this have to do with today?
I do not actually believe that self-rule is good…I believe that the only being fit to rule is the All-Knowing God. But I do believe that self-rule is often a necessary step to get there.
Children should, in a sense, be ruled by their parents. The child certainly doesn’t understand what is best for themselves. But…
1) Parents are not always godly, and
2) Parents will not be around forever.
2.5) Parents will not be around all the time.
I believe that the greatest problem with the idea of teaching “obedience” as an end-all-be-all is this…who will they obey? Parents today…but who tomorrow?
Bragging about my own parents for a second…
My parents weren’t perfect, of course. But they did teach me how to respectfully disagree with them, by…
a) Setting the example by respectfully disagreeing with me, and…
b) …reinforcing, not punishing, the times where I would respectfully disagree with them…as well as…
c) …when I disrespectfully disagreed, they punished the disrespect, not the disagreement.
Now, there were some hiccups in this process, but to this day, I actually don’t think it was a bad thing. Since my parents treated me with the same respect due an adult, I would not feel respect for any adult who treated me like a kid.
Sounds bad, doesn’t it? However, as a martial arts instructor, I have been made all too aware of the fact that not all adults are good guys. And if someone is taught to “respect them because they are an adult” or “obey them because they are an adult,” it is not easy to simply turn that training off simply because they tell you to do something inappropriate.
So the strong-willed child?
Perhaps the idea of a “strong-willed child” is every potential parent’s nightmare. But I think that it is not a curse, but a challenge that comes with a blessing: A child that has the strength to stand up to his/her parents is a child who has the strength to stand up to peer pressure. A child that disagrees and reasons with parents is a child who can disagree and reason with the atheist teacher.
And in the end? Wouldn’t a strong-willed person make themselves an enemy of God?
Wouldn’t a strong-willed person argue with God?
Maybe. And maybe not. We don’t know. But I do know this…no one else can lay down that strong will of theirs. No parent, no coach, no mentor, no one. Only that person, and that person alone, can make the decision to put their will aside and accept God’s will.
And, I suspect, the strong-willed person who devotes his life to Jesus Christ will not be stopped by needing the approval of the world.
I believe in obedience to parents and teachers…as a temporary solution. But only as a temporary solution. If your child has to disobey you in order to obey God (like when Mary was trying to summon Jesus home), will he/she be able to do it?
Are we capable of setting them up to succeed in that day?
In summary, I believe that self-rule comes one step before God-rule. We cannot lay our authority down at His feet until we have it in our hands. I wish it weren’t this way, but is there any story that shows differently?