Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Ay, there's the rub!

We would not be far from the mark to say that the primal sin that lies at the root of all sin, is that self-will which refuses to be content with limitations on our (supposed) freedom. Jude tells us of certain angels "who did not stay within their own position of authority" and suffered the consequences of their overreaching (Jude 6).

This was also the sin of Adam and Eve. They were not content to be subordinate to God, even though they were created in his image and were placed at the head of his creation. They just had to have more. They had to be "like" (equal to) God. They had to know good and evil for themselves, rather than let God define their moral world for them.

This mother of all sins carries over into marriage. One of the principle temptations women must resist is a desire to rule over their husbands, contrary to the created order (Gen. 3:16).

Consider Korah. He had high privileges as a Levite, but not content with these, he coveted the priesthood also (Num. 16).

Uzziah, too, although he was king of Judah, was not content to stay within his own position of authority, but sought to offer incense in the temple, which was unlawful except for the priests. As a result, he was struck by God (2 Chron. 26:16-21).

A spirit of insubordination and overreaching is deeply ingrained in fallen human nature. This is why there are so many biblical admonitions that we render a humble submission to all lawful authority (Rom. 13:1-7; Eph. 5:22-6:9; Col. 3:18-4:1; Heb. 13:17; 1 Pet. 2:-3:6; etc.).

This is also why constitutions are written, in order to clearly define and limit the power of civil magistrates. They, too, must submit to authority. We do not want to leave our rulers to their own devices and simply trust they will use their power responsibly. Instead we clearly express the limits of their authority in written constitutions.

The old saying by Edmund Burke (I think) is true: "Power tends to corrupt; and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely." It tends to corrupt even otherwise good men. And if not corrupt them, at least tempt them to corruption. It takes a man of extraordinary character not to abuse great power.

Thomas Jefferson was skeptical of mere good intentions. He said, "In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution."

Our Constitution is a marvelous piece of work--no doubt the wisest and best governing document in the history of the world. But it is only as good as the men who are sworn to uphold it are honest.

Ay, there's the rub!

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