Berkouwer on the Limits of Obedience and the Purpose of Authority

Providence of God “This suggests, in turn, that obedience to government also has its limits. These limits become evident whenever the Divine authority that rests on human shoulders is misused. (This danger exists not only for government, but also for other bearers of authority, such as parents. Parental authority can also be demonized. Parents can misunderstand their calling and forget that theirs is a given and responsible authority.) The government can throw off its responsibility and became a power without service, a tyranny denying its own boundaries, boundaries to which Paul so clearly points in Romans 13 (cf. vs. 4). This defiance is certainly inspired by demonic influence, but on the human level, it in itself progresses to an exaggerated tension with and opposition to the economy of God.” -G.C. Berkouwer, The Providence of God, pg. 118.

BW COMMENT: Berkouwer’s parenthetical comment about the authority of parents is interesting. How many of us understand that our authority over our kids is God-given and not absolute? At some level, we all do, I suppose. And yet, put it differently, and maybe we realize we can forget that there are boundaries: our authority over our kids is given for a specific purpose. That purpose is to produce responsible (and hopefully, Christian) adult people. Phrased that way, one can see how easily our views of parental authority slip into other modes of power–something more despotic, just like what Berkouwer describes as happening in the State sometimes.

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