The 20<sup>th century overflowed with blood. It saw two wars of unprecedented destructive power. The death tolls soared. Weapons of mass destruction were deployed.
On top of that less well-remembered travesties were committed, such as the genocide of Armenians in Turkey early in the century. Genocides and authoritarian regimes splattered the globe. Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and Idi Aminâjust some names associated with insidious political machinations and systematic killings.
With a track record like this, it's no wonder some in today's culture distrust authority figures. Some people read power struggles into situations. Some assume authority is manipulation, a crime against freedom. Some judge those in power, jumping on their every shortcoming.
How often have you complained about your government in the last week?
I am only passingly aware of national politics. I am accidentally informed through the tid-bits and opinions of my social media connections. However, somehow I am strongly convinced that John Key's administration is doing shady business. They seem to be privileging the rich, and trying to distract the public with matters of little consequence. For example, the clandestine nature of the TPPA, and lack of concern about poverty and the refugee crisis, and a shift of attention to a flag debate and the Rugby World Cup.
Religion - a tool for oppression
For so many people, politics is not the sole realm of authoritarianism. Somehow the Church has been an accomplice to imperialism since 380 AD. So with their suspicious eyes, some warily regard organised religion. With Constantine's adoption of Christianity as the official religion of the Byzantine Empire, Christendom was born. A jewel-studded conflation of political and religious goals, a golden empire of hierarchies and profiting from prophets.
As colonisation spread its influence, this unholy union continued merrily oppressing an uninformed and disempowered proletariat, serfs, slaves and servants.
Whether or not this is an accurate assessment of Christianity, it is certainly a popular view of the organised church. The postmodern sensibilities find claims to know 'The Truth' arrogant and distasteful. For many, religious views are more an expression of personal taste than a reflection of an objective reality.
There is wisdom in critiquing those with authority. While a collective distrust of all leaders is perhaps hyper vigilant, power can be abused. There are husbands who beat their wives. There are business owners who exploit their workers. There are corrupt politicians and police forces. So too, leaders of churches can be manipulative and hypocritical.
But one must ask: is that in line with Christianity?
Was the Bible written as a tool of oppression?
Is the gospel about robbing people of personal freedom?
Character is Key
The answer lies in the character of God. Mention God's sovereignty to a Western audience and witness the room bristle. It can be an uncomfortable topic. The idea that God is in complete control of everything certainly raises questions. Are someone's decisions really their own or is God a capricious control freak? Is God just if He holds people responsible for actions they have no power over? Are His claims of love just a manipulation device?
Certainly in times of suffering people struggle to see God's power and His love come together. Often they choose one or the other. Either God really wanted to stop the earthquake and couldn't, or He maliciously caused it.
God's goodness and His power are not opposites. People have created a false dichotomy. When it comes to the character of God, they short-change themselves if they rely on their reason. In the Bible, God reveals Himself to be utterly just and utterly loving. Humans make real decisions with real consequences, yet God's will is never thwarted. God's purpose is always for good; He deals justly with many and mercifully with some. These are facts of His character.
They define Him. God is vast. People can't play His attributes against each otherâinstead, they must hold together what they know about Him from His Word and trust that everything fits together.
The Humble King
Ultimately, people can learn about God's approach to power in the person of Jesus. God is humble. He serves. God is the ruler of all, and deserves all glory for His wondrous works. Yet, the Son didn't consider Glory something to cling desperately to, but chose to make Himself low. Christ's compassion is not counterfeit. He submitted Himself to poverty, to injustice, to mourning. He served in suffering for sin. He bore the full force of God's cold justice on the cross. He faced fear and death and conquered it.
God is irrevocably good. He is loving enough to mercifully take on the punishment humans deserve. God is in complete control. He is powerful enough to overcome people's greatest enemies, sin and death.
The heavenly Father's authority is nothing to be anxious about.
Matthew Joils is a student at the University of Canterbury. He is involved in the Christian Union on Campus. He enjoys writing, publishing weekly on his blog: www.matthewjoils.wordpress.com
Matthew Joils' previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/matthew-joils.html