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Practical Spirituality : The Purpose of Authority


Dilbert is not a comic strip; it’s a documentary. You know, the one about the socially-awkward engineer who has the pointy-haired boss at work and the sarcastic cat at home. The pointy-haired boss is clueless, dictatorial, and entirely self-serving. His style is to keep his employees demoralized and weak, and meanwhile wring every bit of benefit he can from them before casting them aside like used Kleenexes. In my electrical engineering career, I worked for my share of pointy-haired bosses. I hated it!

Then there are true leaders like Lt. Colonel Larry Lohr, commander of the Civil Air Patrol squadron at Falcon Field in Mesa. Lohr served those in his command. He showed up early, spending hours alone at the never-ending paperwork. He turned on the air conditioner early on meeting nights so the building would be comfortable by meeting time. He genuinely appreciated those who worked with him in the squadron, and dedicated himself to growing and enabling every individual in his command. I loved, admired, and respected that man, and was happy to do anything for him.

Here’s the principle: Hierarchies are built into the physical, social, and spiritual universe, and authority is necessary to transfer power and direction from one level down to the next. Abusive authority selfishly hordes benefits to itself, whereas benevolent authority is all about benefitting those in its care.

God gave the cornerstone of this principle in the Ten Commandments when he said, “Honor your father and your mother.” (Exodus 20:12) Parents are the first authorities in our lives. They also can’t help but love us and dedicate themselves to our benefit. (Yes, there are pathological exceptions, but as a rule our parents are on our side even if we don’t recognize it.) Our job is to honor and appreciate their leadership, and thereby learn to live within authority. Jesus taught us a lot about God and how he exercised authority simply by calling him “Abba”… Daddy.

Matthew and Luke give us the only episode where Jesus was amazed in a good way by someone’s faith. A Roman army officer asked Jesus to heal a suffering servant. (Matt 8:5-13, Luke 7:2-10) When Jesus started towards his house, the officer suggested that Jesus should delegate the job. He understood authority and recognized that Jesus did not work alone, but had spiritual forces at his command. Jesus marveled at the officer’s grasp of the unseen and healed the servant from a distance, just like the officer suggested.

Structure, hierarchy, and authority organize the spiritual as well as the physical universe. We plug into this order by honoring our parents, and then extending that honor to other authorities. When it’s our turn to exercise authority, we get to choose whether we serve ourselves or, like Col. Lohr, serve those in our care with it. If you like to comb your hair into two points, I pity your subordinates.


Mike Pulley

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