At Southside Church, we have been going through a churchwide campaign called, WHY> 40 Days Pursuing Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions.
I haven’t posted the sermons yet, but we’re just finishing our second week of the program, and already I’ve been challenged with some pretty big questions.
During the first small group discussion at my house, a man shared a little about his own spiritual journey and posed this question to our group: Why does God demand total submission?
I’ve been pondering it for a while, and here’s my response.
Clarification of Terms
Submission is not self-abandonment
Biblical submission does not mean checking your brain at the door and becoming a robot. Submission doesn’t mean abandoning yourself and blindly following the whims of another person. In fact, understanding Biblical submission affects how a person relates to God and how a person relates to other people too. Just consider Ephesians 5:21-22.
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. — Ephesians 5:21-22
A misunderstanding of the word submit severely changes how people view the marital relationship advocated in the Bible! True biblical submission as I understand it is this: willfully allowing the desires of another to dictate my behavior and attitude.
Biblical submission always involves the full use of a person’s will. Consider the fact that some of God’s most ardent followers often disagreed with him or asked him to change his mind.
Then the LORD said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”
The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the LORD. Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
The LORD said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” — Genesis 18:20-26
Now, remember that Abraham is the person who was so willing to submit to God’s will that he was ready to kill his own son Isaac as a sacrifice when God asked him once to do it. For the record, God stopped him before he went through with it and thereby revealed that the whole thing was only a test of Abraham’s faithfulness. This same Abraham is considered righteous and faithful to God even when he begs God to reconsider the judgment on Sodom.
Submission, in this case involves a mutual process of interaction.
At one point, God was so mad with the people of Israel that he told Moses he would no longer go with them. God would be with Moses, but he was going to remove his presence from the rest of the camp, and Moses debated:
Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”
And the LORD said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” — Exodus 33:15-17
Moses’ debate with God is actually more heated than any Abraham had. (In fact, if you want to see real heated debate with God in the midst of submission consider the language Job uses to talk to God in the book of Job). Moses goes so far as to say to God at one point, “All the people of the world will make fun of you, God, if they see your people come out of Egypt only to die here in the wilderness aimless and alone.”
Moses’ submission to God involved the process of heated debate.
In the Garden of Gethsemane before Jesus was taken from the cross, he pleads with his Heavenly Father to if possible take away the cup of responsibility before him.
“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” — Luke 22:42
This last passage accurately depicts what biblical submission really looks like. Jesus makes his own request clear, but he is making a willful choice to do the follow the plan of his Heavenly Father rather than his own desires. Even though Jesus fully expresses his own desires, he makes a willing choice to put the desires of God above his own.
God is the Ultimate King
Finally, it’s important for us to remember what kind of God we are talking about when we say that God demands total submission. Too often in our modern world (at least in North America), God is perceived in one of three ways:
- The Tourist — God has big important things to think about and to take care of, and whenever he considers Earth it’s as a minorly interested tourist. He’s just checking things out, but he has more important things to worry about than the goings on of human lives.
- The Helper — God is the helper of the weak. He is the one people turn to when they have problems. If you need something, you go to God.
- The Landlord — God is the one who apportions heavenly real estate. He doesn’t matter much until you die and then he determines by various means the location in which a person spends their afterlife.
Oh yeah, the majority of Americans believe that God is loving, but they don’t have a clue what they mean by that. I’m pretty convinced that in actual practice people don’t perceive God much differently than tourist, helper, or landlord.
However, the Bible clearly depicts God as something completely different. The Bible depicts God as the supreme King in charge of all things who is deeply concerned about impact of human actions.
As far as we know, humans are the only beings God created to have freedom of thought and action. That means humans are the only creatures with the ability to impact creation in a way outside their design and that humans are the only creatures God needs to keep an eye on if he really wants his world to work in a particular way.
In other words, the entire creation is in full submission to God by virtue of the way God created it. Apples submit to the force of Gravity and because God created Gravity, the falling apple is in full submission to the will of God.
However, human beings have the ability to reject certain aspects of God’s will. Though we are still subject to the laws of physics, we have been given the freedom to bypass or ignore God’s moral laws.
The Real Question
Since everything in the universe by nature of its creation is in total submission to God except for humans (as far as we know), the real question isn’t why God demands total submission but rather why God allows humans to rebel. Or perhaps more accurately:
Why would God create humans with the ability to rebel and still demand total submission?
The Real Answer
1. God wants love.
Many people have recognized before that love isn’t love if it is forced. In order for someone to truly love, the love must be by choice. Therefore, if God wants us to love him, he must create some beings with the power of choice.
2. God wants a perfect world.
God has created the world exactly the way he wants it, but since his will includes beings with the power to rebel this world is subject to change away from the way he wants it. Therefore, in order to make the world work the way he wants it to work, he must have the willful participation of those beings.
3. As life-giver, God deserves our gratefulness.
God gave us life, and we owe our entire existence to him.
4. As King, God deserves our loyalty.
God’s in charge of everything else, so if he has our loyalty too, we are on the side of the one who’s in control of everything.
The bottom line is that God deserves our submission, the world works better when humans submit to God, and God wants the kind of loving loyalty that the Bible sometimes calls submission. God has the power and ability to “demand” total submission from all of his creatures, but he has willingly chosen to allow rebellion from humans in the hope that they will willingly submit anyway.
I’m leaving the question of Hell and Punishment for rebellion to another post, but for now, I’d like to hear some feedback about this idea. What do you think? Post a comment or two.