by John Thorhauer (Covenant Partner and Elder Candidate)
She sat there weeping, waiting for my answer. She had just finished telling me her short version of a long life of suffering. She suffered deeply and often at the hands of too many violent men. Now she was broken and impoverished. The alcohol and the prescription drugs had stolen any sense of hope that might have survived until now. She looked at me and asked “Where has God been? Where is his love? Why have I suffered like this?” She wasn’t really asking. She was accusing. But she wanted an answer from me nonetheless. I stood there speechless. What answer could I possibly give to this woman who has suffered so much for so long? I felt no ability to give an answer. How could I say anything that would carry any weight? I knew nothing of her poverty, abuse or addiction. I felt totally inadequate to speak into a life of such sorrow. I took a deep breath, prayed to myself, and asked if I could read from my Bible. She agreed. She wept, and I read. I read in Romans 5 of a God who displays his love to us by giving his Son to die for us. I read in Isaiah 40 of the unfailing strength that only God can provide to those who are weary and exhausted. We talked and prayed and bit more. I left knowing that I had spoken words to her that had the kind of authority that both of us were in need of.
At that moment, I was stripped of any sense of authority I had within myself to speak with helpful words into someone else’s life. This was not the first time this had happened, and it would not be the last. But it was one of the most striking times that I remember experiencing a desperate need for authority beyond myself. We all have moments where we feel the pull, the need for that kind of authority. It manifests itself on different occasions and in different seasons of life. For many of us, we recently felt it while weighing our options at the ballot box. For some, it comes as you realize that your children seem to be seeking an authority that is anything but parental.
And then there are the mundane things of life that also beg for authority to speak into them. They are mundane, but they are never insignificant. How do I respond to that insult from a coworker? Why should I bother to do great work when no one really cares, as long as the job gets done? How can I care for my family when I feel like a doormat? Why should I stop with just one drink? And the list goes on. We have questions that require answers. And we long for the kind of answers that won’t be found in magazines at the checkout line. They won’t be given by the talk show host and their latest self-help guru. We won’t find them in casual conversations at the gym or the hair salon.
We need and want answers that have real authority. Real authority requires two components. It must have legitimacy, and it must have power. If the answer we get is missing either of these, it does not have authority. It will not satisfy us, and it can not help us.
Real Authority - Legitimacy
The answers we seek are answers that can only come from having an intimate knowledge of the subject matter. We don’t want someone speaking into our lives that don't have a clue as to what we are dealing with. We seek legitimacy. The Bible carries with it real legitimacy. It has this legitimacy because the author of the Bible is also the author of the human race. God knows his subject matter. God created us, so he knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows the ends for which we were created, and he knows the means that will get us to those ends. But God doesn’t just know us as one knows an encyclopedia. God knows us with an intimate knowledge. He knows us like a mom knows the face of her child, being able to discern the difference between anticipation, fear, dishonesty, and boredom without a word being said. God knows his creation so intimately because "He is actually not far from each one of us, for In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:27b-28a).
God not only has intimate knowledge of us but he also has experiential knowledge. That is, God actually knows what it is like to have a bad day. He knows what it is like to weep because of the suffering of a friend. He knows what it is like to be betrayed by those you entrusted yourself to. "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16) The incarnate Son of God lends great weight to the legitimacy of the word of God. We know that the God who speaks through Scripture is the God who knows our sorrow, temptations, and struggles.
When we consider that the God of the Bible has such exhaustive, intimate, and empathetic knowledge of us and our world we are assured that there can be no greater source of legitimacy than the words he has chosen to breath onto (2 Tim 3:!6) the pages of the Bible. While legitimacy is crucial in the search for authority, it is not enough. For a while we need an answer that comes from a source that actually understands who we are and what we are facing, we also want an answer that can have an effect. We want an answer that can make a difference. We want an answer that comes with power.
Real Authority - Power
The Bible, the word of God, has the power that we yearn for. It’s power comes not just from the words on the page. Although it is not less than this. It is the words on the page pressed firmly into our hearts and minds by the work of the Holy Spirit. It has power to revive our souls and to create joy in our hearts (Ps 19:7-8). It is an authority that does not fluctuate or change over time but is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow (1 Peter 1:25). It has the power to protect us from ourselves (Hebrews 4:12), while also strengthening us so that we willingly shed the protection we often seek from others (Col 3:13) who have hurt us. Remember that through the Word God created the world (John 1:1-3), upholds the world (Hebrews 1:3), saves the world (1 Peter 1:23-25), and renews the world to his glory (John 17:17; 1 Thess 2:13). The word of God as contained in this book impacts every aspect of our existence from the grandest questions of life to the smallest details of our day to day humdrum rhythms. This book has power.
This book has real authority. It has the kind of authority that we are looking for when we need an answer that we know is beyond ourselves. And that is often, isn’t it? Where else can you find such an authority? And yet so often we search elsewhere for the answers and the wisdom that the world is simply not equipped to provide us. We are meant to find it in God and his Holy Word. So the question looms. What is your authority? Is it the God of the Bible. If your answer is yes, would your daily actions, routines, rhythms answer yes with your words?
When Jesus knew he was close to leaving his disciples, he prayed for them. He knew he would not be with them much longer. So he asked his Father, "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17). When Paul knew that he might not see the elders in Ephesus again, he commended them to "God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” Jesus and Paul entrusted believers to the word of God to bring them safely through this world and into their father’s world. What are you trusting in to bring you home? Trust in God’s word. Read it. Be shaped by it. Be fed by it. It is God’s gift to you, his people.