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Autonomy

Lessons from an infant…

Michaela, my youngest daughter, is just about eighteen months old. She’s at the stage of infancy I enjoy the most—she is just starting to figure out how the world works and is just learning how to communicate. Her vocabulary is increasing by the day and so many of her attempts to use these new words leave us howling with laughter. A couple of times a week Aileen “puppysits” for some neighbors who just got a new puppy. Michaela likes to look at the puppy, but hates it when the dog comes over to her and tries to play with her or, even worse, lick her. So Michaela sticks her little finger in the air, waves it at the dog, and says with all the authority she can muster, “No, no!” Needless to say, the puppy couldn’t care less and continues to pounce and to play.

This morning Aileen was trying to get Michaela dressed and that little girl just wouldn’t play nice. She squirmed and wiggled and screeched, but refused to submit to having her little pink pants put on. It’s not that there was something else she wanted to wear, or not that we could tell. She just did not want to be jostled and cajoled. At eighteen months she was already demanding autonomy. Then, when it came time to get her out the door to walk the other children to school, she flopped to the ground, unwilling to have me help her put her coat on. Never mind that she loves the pink coat with the flowers on it, and never mind that it’s only ten degrees above freezing out there—she didn’t think she needed that coat and was not going to go down without a fight.

It was amazing to me to see this little red-headed, pig-tailed baby fighting for nothing more than her right to autonomy. I’m convinced that she did not really want to go out this morning wearing only her pajamas, a dirty diaper and no coat. The issue is that she did not want us, her mother and father, forcing her to do anything. And so she rebelled against our authority, preferring to think that she would be happier if she did things her own way. And she’s not even two years old.

Somehow this rebellion against authority is one of humanity’s besetting sins. When even the babies are doing it—the infants who can barely express themselves verbally—we know it has deep roots.

Of course I’m far from immune to this sin. I rebel all the time. I may not flop to the ground when it comes time to getting dressed, but I see these same seeds of rebellion in my heart. I see the same desire to be autonomous and to do the things I want to do, regardless of what I’m told by those who have authority over me.

Matthias Media’s “Two Ways to Live” presentation covers this well:

The sad truth is that, from the very beginning, men and women everywhere have rejected God by doing things their own way. We all do this. We don’t like someone telling us what to do or how to live—least of all God—and so we rebel against him in lots of different ways. We ignore him and just get on with our own lives; or we disobey his instructions for living in his world; or we shake our puny fists in his face and tell him to get lost.

How ever we do it, we are all rebels, because we don’t live God’s way. We prefer to follow our own desires, and to run things our own way, without God. This rebellious, self-sufficient attitude is what the Bible calls ‘sin’.

And what does God do about this sin and rebellion?

God cares enough about humanity to take our rebellion seriously. He calls us to account for our actions, because it matters to him that we treat him, and other people, so poorly. In other words, he won’t let the rebellion go on forever.

The sentence God passes against us is entirely just, because he gives us exactly what we ask for. In rebelling against God, we are saying to him, “Go away. I don’t want you telling me what to do. Leave me alone.” And this is precisely what God does. His judgement on rebels is to withdraw from them, to cut them off from himself—permanently. But since God is the source of life and all good things, being cut off from him means death and hell. God’s judgement against rebels is an everlasting, God-less death.

In my daughter’s rebellion against me I see just a shadow of her rebellion against God and from there, a glimpse of my own rebellion against Him. Some day my daughter will be glad that I did not say to her, “I will give you what you desire” and leave her to her own devices. She would not last a day. And I pray that she also sees in herself that the desire for autonomy is a desire for a Godless, rebellious existence at emnity with God. May she come to see the joy and the utter necessity of submitting to authority.