Introduction: What Is Obedience?
By Franklin D. Tennyson
When we began our work for this journal, it was a very gradual process
that demanded for us to lay aside our own theological theories and differences
and focus primarily on the texts we had chosen to study. Many of those texts,
while very relevant to the issue, did not make it into the journal. However,
the ideas we encountered when discussing these particular scriptures
did. We found that, for one, the very fact that we were discussing Judaism,
Christianity, and Islam in order to divine some "truth" about obedience and
what it means, meant that we first had to detach ourselves from the notion that
the three traditions were far too separated to communicate. Moreover, once we
accomplished that very first yet very necessary practice of scriptural
reasoning, we were then able to turn to the three texts without prejudice. This
newfound openness, however, did not make work easier for our group. As we
discussed scripture and found new ideas, our old discoveries were replaced by
our new discoveries, and consequently, our journal topics were affected and
began to change accordingly. I think that the difficulty in discussing divine
obedience is that in discussing it we are not merely positing ideas about some
abstracted phenomenon; rather, we are discussing the very essence of God's
relationship with man and how and why it works the way it does. We could not
separate ourselves from these thoughts. To do so would nullify our work, for if
a relationship is the interaction between two or more people and if God's
interaction with man is contingent on the way in which man obeys, then it
becomes obvious that mankind's obedience is at the very heart of his
relationship with God. Therefore, considering this, we began our work with one
question: Is obedience to God's law a limitation of human agency or a
realization of human potential?
Much of our work for this journal issue is centered on this question, for
it not only questions the purpose of obedience but also the nature of true
obedience. When we brought up the first part of this question in our
discussions, we considered why it might be that God's law seeks to limit human
agency. We thought we found somewhat of an answer in Matthew 6:24, where it is
No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the
other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve
both God and Money.
the first auxiliary verb "can" to be most important because it does not say
"should," as in "No one should serve two masters." Rather, it says that
no one can, implying that it is impossible for a man to serve two
masters. We then considered the next sentence where the contrary acts of love
and hate are attributed to one's dedication, respectively, to its two masters.
We believe this implies that, because one can only attribute contrary acts and
emotions to these two masters then these two masters must be inherently
different from one another. The verse then concludes with the affirmation that
God and Money are two masters, neither of which can be served in the same way
that the other is served. We understood one of the main ideas of this verse to
be that mankind has two masters, God and Money (or rather God and earthly
things), which means that man must then exist within two different dominions:
the spiritual domain and the physical, earthly domain. Therefore, if man exists
within two domains, which master should he serve? Christ advises in Matthew 6:33
to "seek first his kingdom and his righteousness" (meaning God's), denoting
that devotion to God grants one the benefits of both worlds. However, what we
derived the most from this verse was that it immediately established mankind's
limitation and inferred that, because of this limitation, man must only serve
God, he who can bestow upon creation all existent benefits.
In his article, Lance daSilva posits that the Ten Commandments discuss
the ideas of Matthew 6:24 insofar as how they frame an earthly life in the
context of its devotion to God but also in how they present a series of
negations, things that mankind should not do. He views the Ten
Commandments as affirming the first part of our original question (Is
obedience limitation?), but he sees it primarily as a function of
protection. Since man exists within two domains, the spiritual and the
physical, he suggests that God's law limits our physical agency because it
strives to teach us how to live on this earth and how to grow, despite living
in this world, in our devotion to God. Lance then begins to liken this
particular relationship, one in which the condition and growth of one is
contingent on the guidance of another, to the dependency of a child on its
parent. He feels that a parent's intervention in the life of their child is a
way to protect the child and teach him about the new world that he is entering.
Eventually this guidance becomes inherent in the child as it has perhaps become
inherent in mankind through the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions.
Jason Jones picks up on this idea, alluding to the practical implications
of obedience. Along with Lance, he writes that if a child's obedience to his
parent is most necessary for preparing him for life then his obedience to God
is most necessary in beginning his journey to understand God and know Him.
Jason writes that the answer to our group's original question is both 'yes' and
'no,' believing that oneâs adherence to Godâs laws and limitations serve as a
beginning to the full realization of His work and purpose in our lives. He
views this knowledge of God's purpose as being analogous to the full enactment
of human potential. Lance and Jason are not the only people in our group,
however, to link knowledge with power and ignorance with dependency.
Mary Agnes Patterson posits that man's contingency on God derives from
the relationship of his limited knowledge with God's complete knowledge. She
writes that the Bible and the Qur'an do command one to obey God, but she
believes more importantly that they command one to fear and love Him as well.
For her, love, fear, and obedience are intrinsically connected, the love of God
requiring a devotion to Him that is maintained through an understanding of His
greatness and superiority. Obedience seems important to Mary Agnes because she
believes that God reveals Himself through His law and that obedience to Him
contains both a love and a fear that recognizes humanity's futility without Him.
Finally, Leah Goldman does not believe
that obedience to God is the only way to realize oneself and one's potential.
In our group discussions of disobedience (and its implications) she posits a
number of ideas, namely that disobedience is simply innate to human nature. As
she proposed her ideas we saw that disobedience was not necessarily abstracted
from God's purpose for our lives. We began thinking that maybe our disobedience
to God grants us even greater understand of our relationship with Him and that
the consequences for disobedience result from our rejection of that purpose.
Regardless, humanity has been charged with the responsibility of obeying, but
to obey completely and most effectively, we must know why we obey and to what