Maybe the Bible Teaches that We’re NOT Supposed to Obey God

So wonders Robert Burt of Yale Law School:

Whether we approach the Bible as believers in its truth or solely with an appreciation of its literary qualities, we cannot accurately understand the text if we overlook the deep doubts and fears of the characters, including their doubts about God’s wisdom. A close reading reveals many instances when human beings withhold allegiance from God – and seemingly with good reason.

One obvious example is in the book of Job, in which God authorizes the infliction of suffering on an innocent man to prove to Satan that Job will be loyal to Him. Job responds, however, by cursing the day he was born and threatening suicide, which he imagines would somehow punish God for the injustice he is suffering. “Soon I’ll be lying in the earth,” Job says. “When you come looking for me, I’ll be gone.”

There are other notable occasions. After Abraham is held back at the last moment from fulfilling God’s command to kill Isaac, he and God never speak again. Genesis does not proclaim this fact; it simply gives no record of any further communication between them, in contrast to the constant interactions between God and Abraham before this climactic event.

Read on to see why he thinks this means that civil authorities should not necessarily be obeyed eitherShould God be obeyed? Should the state?—A Commentary by Robert Burt ’64 | Yale Law School.

  • Evelyn

    I like the article and think that comparing our relationship to God with our relationship to civil authorities is a useful metaphor.

    I think that the harm done in our interactions with God are usually due to ignorance and misunderstanding. I don’t think that God speaks to us directly but can speak through double-meanings which we have to interpret under our individual ethos. For example, when God asks Abraham to kill his son he may have wanted Abraham to disown his son so that he could mature rather than physically kill him. Abraham, not realizing that he couldn’t interpret God’s words literally, tried to do something that was immoral and insane by today’s standards and hence his lack of self-reliance and ignorance about God led to his relationship with God being forever changed.

    We may perceive that God has done something evil when, in fact, if we had all of the information surrounding the situation in question, we might find that, given all the factors and parties involved, God made the best decision he could. It may be the same with civil authorities. They have a lot more information about cases than we do and perhaps they make the best decisions they can based on what they have and what they believe to be the right thing to do. This is not to say that we should blindly follow their decisions but when a decision bothers us like, for example, the decision to do targeted assassinations of Al Quaeda members, we should investigate and try to know the reasons for those decisions. This is part and parcel of the kind of love that is agape – a wish to know. And, the point of this is to find inner peace through understanding (rather than inner fear through ignorance) that leads to an ability to forgive acts that we think are unjust (rather than harboring grudges).

    • ME

      Why do you think God can’t speak to us directly? I’m not saying he speaks in a voice, but, I think he can communicate better than double meanings.

  • Curtis

    I’ve often considered that this is what the “Prodigal Son” story teaches us. Consider the end of the story: The prodigal son, who did not obey his father, is happy and warmly accepted by his father. The loyal son, who did obey his father and did everything he was told, is angry and confused. Can’t put it any more simply than that.

    • Nick

      But shouldn’t the “Prodigal Son” story be understood in the context of grace and the fact that it’s been told in the presence of the Pharisees and religious leaders? I think we’d be carrying the wrong message home if we praise the prodigal son for his past actions. Rather, we should praise God that he came to his senses and also praise God for his acceptance. Because if we looked at ourselves honestly, we would most likely find ourselves thinking the same as the brother.

      • Curtis

        Yes, we praise God that the prodigal son came to his senses. But it is exactly *because* he thought for himself, unlike his brother, that he had any senses to arrive at. It is called “free will” which God grants us abundantly. God could have created us as robots, but God didn’t. God intentionally created us to “not obey God”.

  • Brian P.

    Why not skip the fear of God’s wrath and just be compassionate for goodness’ sake?

  • Nick

    While interesting, this article makes a lot of assumptions that don’t seem to stand up (in my opinion). For example, the entire discussion of Job’s situation. There’s a lot I could say here, but the main thing that stands out is this quote:
    “When God appears to Job in the whirlwind, He seems to mock Job for daring to see any limitation on his power. But later, God seems to acknowledge the truth of Job’s claim by restoring his previous fortune twice over. God thus paid double indemnity, in effect, pleading guilty in Job’s lawsuit against Him for wrongful conduct.”

    It’s important to note that prior to God restoring Job’s fortune, Job withdraws his case against God. Thus, I don’t think you can come to the conclusion that God pays double indemnity, because the case is closed altogether. The important thing in the story is that God does what God does based on his authority alone. I’ll save the discussion about the implications of Job’s story for other discussions and relevant literature.


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