Exploring Hope: What’s your authority?

A little boy tells his friend that unicorns really exist. "No, they don't,” says the friend. “Yes, they do. My mom said so.” “Well, my mom says they don't exist." “Your mom is stupid."

Now, what's going on in this story? Well, there is a battle over authority. Neither child has enough life experience to settle the question empirically. Therefore, the only thing they can do is appeal to authorities beyond themselves. But adults aren't that different.

"Tax cuts will help the economy,” says one friend. “No, they will only put money in the pocket of the rich,” says the other.  “Oh yeah? Read this book by the greatest economist.” “That book is dumb! Read this book by a Harvard professor.”  Like the children arguing about unicorns, neither one of the friends knows enough about economics to settle the question, so they rely on authority.

Now, this raises an important question: What is your ultimate authority? You might say, “I don't believe in authority.” But the moment I disagree with you, you are forced to begin defending your position on the basis of some authority.

To do this, some rely on “academic authority.” They claim that whatever is true is supported by the latest research. Knowledge is power and whatever comes out of Ivy League institutions is true. The problem, however, is that these academic “authorities” seldom agree about anything.

Therefore, others rely on what could be called “celebrity authority.” This is especially true in the world of politics. Famous actors, actresses, and singers are constantly making bold political declarations. They think that being an amazing artist somehow qualifies them to speak on any topic.

But I think the most prevalent source of authority in modern society is “subjective authority.” People say that whatever they feel is true. You can’t disagree with someone if she feels it is true. The internal subjective perception of reality is the impregnable fortress. It is sacred. And woe to us, according to modern people, if we suggest that someone’s subjective feelings are wrong.

Now I believe that academic, celebrity and subjective authorities have value. But they are only subordinate authorities because they are too flimsy to be ultimate authorities. An ultimate authority needs to be all-knowing or it could make mistakes; it needs to be all-powerful or it couldn’t enforce its authority; it needs to be eternal or it could be here today and gone tomorrow, and it needs to be all-loving and righteous or it could abuse its authority.

And I’ll bet you can see where I’m going with this. Apparently, the most reliable authority would be all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving, and eternal. This is a textbook definition of God, who created the world and acted in the person of Christ to redeem it. And then, he gave us a beautiful and glorious book called the Bible, which is a Christian’s final authority because it is the Word of God. It comes from the highest authority and has self-authenticating power to change hearts and lives.

“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8 ESV).

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About Will Stern

Originally from Colorado, Will Stern is the pastor of Hope Presbyterian Church in Garnet Valley. He majored in violin performance for his undergrad and taught violin for a number of years before being called into ministry. He studied theology at Duke University and Westminster Theological Seminary.

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