Response to David's Facebook Note “Genuine Adults” on May 30th, 2010
If you, as an adult, are making decisions based on your parent’s authority, you are not being fair to God, the world, your friends, or a future mate. … ndependence, whether what it reveals is good or bad, creates an honest statement of who we are. A statement which ought to be made by every adult before expecting anybody (including ourselves) to see us as genuine.
David requested that I compose some sort of response to this quote. What do I think of it? Is it good? Is it bad? What does it mean for the single men and women out there? David may not have realized just how strongly I feel about this topic. Then again, maybe he did. The above quote asks us to disregard our parents as parents, and treat them the same as any other respected colleague whose wisdom we may — or may not — trust. Whether the author intended it or not, this quote conflates independence and submission. The tragic philosophy of our era confuses spiritual independence with the physical; God demands spiritual independence, but our circumstances will indicate how we should live out this independence.
Before I progress further, let me restrict my essay. We owe the world nothing, and fairness has nothing to do with any of this. Thus, I will ignore completely the issue of fairness, and especially ignore any supposed obligations we have to the world. I intend to focus on our obligations to humanity, and specifically, to each other as friends, spouses, and children. Moreover, our central focus and accountability must always rest on God, and therefore, all these other things exist only as an extension on the will of God and his commands for us. With that out of the way, I’d like to discuss what it is to be accountable and what it is to be an adult.
The above quote starts off with an interesting assumption. It assumes that we all know what adults are. Do we really? What is an adult? I don’t believe we can understand adult as a term until we first understand accountability. Man is ultimately and finally accountable in every respect to his Creator. We will be held responsible and judged according to the obligations that our lives presented us, and especially in our obligation to Him. This fundamental truth permeates the rest of this essay, and forms the central thesis. This accountability and its relation to our actions defines the barrier between childhood and adulthood.
While God shall hold accountable man in the final judgment and in his providence throughout our lives, each of us must account for our lives in respect to the authorities that exist in our lives, and the responsibilities that we have. Society and the Biblical canon do not hold children accountable for their actions in the way that adults are held accountable. Children, God commands, should obey their parents: they are accountable for their behavior to their parents, and their parents, in turn, must account for their children’s behavior. Children have the lowest level of responsibility, and thus, the lowest level of accountability. Since they are not responsible for their own actions, they are also not given the freedom that such responsibility provides. Children ought to obey their parents, because their parents bear the responsibility of their actions.
When does a child become a man? When does a child cease to be a girl, and become a woman? When, in essence, does a child become an adult? I should point out that I cannot find any reference to this idea of adulthood clearly in my bible. I do not see the term adult used. Still, I believe the bible clearly outlines a distinction between the adult and the child: the adult is responsible for his actions alone, the child is not. I believe that this distinguishes the child from the adult. As adults, we must account for our own actions, and not for the commands of our parents. As a child, we could escape judgment because our parents commanded us to do something; as adults, we cannot escape the consequences of our actions simply because someone else ordered us to do them (barring situations where such authority is re-established, but more on that later).
Nonetheless, we should not lump all adults into one package. Clearly we all bear the responsibilities of our station, but these stations differ. Men, women, soldiers, mothers, fathers, preachers, wives, and husbands must all live their lives according to the obligations and duties their station demands. The faithful execution of these duties with gladness and delight epitomizes the act of love. Love is the act of delighting in the obligations that our various relationships impose upon us. Importantly, we must understand how these obligations differ between us. While we are all equally accountable, and equally loved by our Creator, we are not all equally obliged in the way we ought to live our lives.
The adult must juggle many such obligations. I wish to deal specifically with the obligations that derive from authority. Our quote above deals especially with authority, and thus, so do I. Firstly, authority is not power. The power to compel someone to action is not the power of authority. We may have various forms of power over someone without their consent. Authority comes only in the consent of the one who submits to this authority. Often, as is the case between parent and child, authority is enforced through power. I do not know of parents, however, who take their station so lightly as to desire only that they dominate over their children through sheer force. An authority may also delegate authority to another. God does this often, placing through his authority and power other authorities into our lives. These authorities, though we may not acknowledge them, do not cease to exist. In this way, we rebel against our Creator.
When these authorities exist in our lives, we inherit obligations to them based on their relation and type of authority over us. Some authorities, such as the authority of a parent over a child, is absolute. Other authorities have dominion over only parts of our lives. As adults, we must carefully understand the parts of our lives that are in submission to what authorities. We ought to acknowledge the authorities that we have created for us, and those that have been assigned to us. We should understand how they direct our lives, and how our response to them relates to other authorities. Ultimately, we must understand how each authority in our life relates to our ultimately professed authority: God.
All of us have parents. Not all of us are children. Nonetheless, parental authority exists beyond childhood. The domain of a parents authority changes both by the willful act of altering it by a parent, but also by the maturity and progression of the relationship we have towards our parents. Clearly, we are commanded to obey our parents when we are children. This mandate changes as we move into adulthood. Specifically, obedience no longer forms the bulk of our obligation, and in truth, obedience never again forms a primary duty. Instead, we are called to honor, respect, and cherish our parents, to care for them in their old age, and to bring them gladness through the wisdom of our actions and our living. These are not the actions of someone in obedience, for in fact, complete honor and respect cannot come out of a child’s relationship to his parents. Full and complete honor, respect, and love come when we live in full accountability of our actions, and cannot exist without it.
Notice that I have not used the term independence until now. Why? Isn’t this whole discussion about breaking away from our mother’s skirt and living our lives as we see fit? That’s what the modern society teaches us. “Independence,” they cry! Modernity teaches us that we cannot really be adults until we have asserted our independence. We must move out of the house, must demonstrate how we disagree and disparage our father’s obsessive doctrines. Only then can we live our fulfilled lives in a genuine fashion, living honestly before men. God forbid!
Where do you see such actions praised in the bible? No, instead, you can find them in the signs of the end times, the signs of decay. This whole discussion is not about such independence. This independence is an invoked independence, a physical rebellion against our parents’ love. This is so much more than independence, this is rebellion. This attitude does not foster Christian good will, nor does it foster any of the spiritual fruits so coveted by the Christian.
Still, doesn’t Christ say that we should love him above mother and father? Yes. We should be willing to leave our parents to accomplish God’s will. So what’s the difference? One independence is a physical one, the modern idea of independence inextricably ties physical independence to our own mental and spiritual uniqueness. Sadly, this flawed thinking has driven many children into sorry situations because they did not understand the difference between physical independence and spiritual independence. Very often, physical independence goes directly contrary to spiritual independence. God demands spiritual independence from adults (here I will consider spiritual, mental, and emotional independence as a single thing). Indeed, we cannot escape this independence. We cannot call to the father on judgment day, “But I was not independent, my spirit was still bound by my parents!” No, whether we acknowledge it or not, our spirits are independent of our parents, and we will live with that.
The act of submitting to the authorities in our lives, of fulfilling our obligations, of subjugating ourselves to the physical dominion of, say, our parents, husband, or some other leader or friend in some capacity can be one of two things. We could be living the epitome of the spiritually independent life, submitting willfully to the authorities in a clear and conscious understanding of our position, our station, and our understanding of God’s designs in our life. The act of submission through ourselves, and not through the coercive power of others, demonstrates the most powerful spiritual independence. Jesus did this. Jesus submitted to authority, suffered and was physically bound and dominated. He suffered injustice and ridicule. He was brought to shame. There were so many things that he could do with his life, so many things that would bring greater glory to himself, but he understood the designs of God, and though he could have overwhelmed those in authority over him (for they had no power over him), he willingly gave himself in complete spiritual independence to their physical domination.
This young generation, single, feisty, and steeped in the undercurrents of modern humanistic thought, often fails to see the difference between living in spiritual independence and living in physical independence. What results? Most often, these young “adults” blame and pass judgment on the authorities they perceive in their lives. They refuse to acknowledge their own spiritual independence, real independence, and instead try to press their responsibilities onto the authorities. With parents this often comes in the form of children claiming that their parents won’t let them have their independence. Children blame their parents for not giving them freedom, when they are refusing to acknowledge their own spiritual independence. They are the ones responsible, not their parents. As adults, we can no longer place the blame of our actions on our parents. We cannot escape the truth of our own accountability. As adults our independence comes from our acknowledging our own responsibility for our own actions, not from some physical rebellion against our station. This spiritual independence, this accountability towards God, and the subsequent understanding that our actions derive from our own choices, and not the demands or beliefs of our parents, frees us from the humanistic thinking that would have us rebel in anger and false-judgment against the authorities in our lives.
To put this another way, we can’t blame our parents for keeping us at home, or not letting us get our hair cut in a certain way, or not letting us get a job. That’s on us. We either choose to embrace their authority which God has given them in our lives, or we reject it, they aren’t forcing us to do anything. They aren’t oppressing us. We are accountable for our actions, and we can’t blame our resentment on them. Rarely are we being physical coerced Understanding this puts us into a perspective that gives us true, godly independence. This independence didn’t come from leaving the house, believing differently than our parents, or any of the other various humanistic manifestations of “independence” that we often associate with adulthood. Instead, this independence allows us to live under the authorities of our lives in the right understanding of how those authorities play into God’s design for our lives.
Does this mean that we all need to stay at home and obey our parents until we are 50? I did not say that. I want to show the importance of spiritual independence, and the relative unimportance of physical independence. In fact, in many cases, staying under some authority is the right thing to do, and it takes spiritual understanding and independence to do so. Once you understand that you are not being controlled, but that you are rather choosing the path you live, it is important to decide what path you are going to take.
Ultimately, we will be slaves either to God or to Satan. Godly, spiritual independence is living our lives in understanding of our position, our obligations, and the authorities in our lives, and then embracing our role and the work that God has given us, whatever that may be. Does that mean that we may stay at home for a long time? Maybe. Does that mean we may have to leave when we are thirteen? Maybe. The important thing is not the nature of the physical relationship between parent and child, but rather the spiritual relationship between God and man.
Why is it so important to distinguish roles from independence? Simply put, we all have different tasks given to us by the Father. As men, we have different roles than women do, and often, we must submit to different authorities. Especially for single men and women, this can be hard. Young men often struggle with the responsibility and leadership that is expected of them, and young women, in this modern world, often struggle with the idea that they are subject to the authority of man, and that men rule their lives. Nonetheless, the new testament clearly lays out the nature of a woman’s submission, both as a single woman to her father or other male authority and as a wife to her husband, and the nature of a man’s huge accountability. For women, the idea of submission often goes counter to the idea of independence, but it is important to see that submission is something given in honor and obedience to God, not taken from the woman without consent The independence is in the giving. Likewise, the roles for young men are similarly daunting in the demands of learning, selflessness, and guardianship.
The distinction in these roles does not lessen either sex in the eyes of God. Instead, we are all equally responsible and equally accountable to God for our actions. We have each been given a unique role to play, and these roles often take on different faces in different families. Wisdom is in the discernment of how we can best accomplish God’s commands for our life. For some women, this may mean going to college, though they may not personally feel it necessary or desirable. For others it may mean living under their Father’s authority and under his house much longer than they would have thought. The choices that we regret often start because we don’t acknowledge our own accountability for our actions. In this way we get the woman who marries to escape her father’s “control,” or the man who runs away from his home to do his own thing. Of course, there are cases where women have wrongly stayed at home with the expectation that others would do the work that she herself ought to have done, and men who were too cowardly to leave the house when they ought to have. Each of these, though wildly different in execution, stems from a refusal to accept responsibility for actions; in a word, refusal to be an adult.
While these are many words, I hope that the idea will be simple enough to grasp immediately. I hope to convince my readers that spiritual independence is an entirely different thing from physical independence, and that living under God’s authority demands that we understand and fulfill our obligations to the authorities that he has placed in our lives, not blaming or accusing them of controlling us, but rather, embracing these obligations out of an understanding of our own relationship to them and our relationship to God, putting them in their right place, neither too high nor too low. This is an independent life, where we fully account for our own actions, and do not place the blame of our resentment on the actions of others.