The Silent Enemy:
Disobedience has been described as the silent killer and a silent destroyer of even the ‘holy’. It is a tool that the devil readily uses to destabilize even the elect without their knowing it. He does this because he is aware that pride is very deeply rooted in each person, and it is this pride that gives rise to disobedience. St Josemaria Escriva states that the last thing that leaves the body when a person dies is pride. He says that for several hours after a person is declared dead, the sense of pride remains inside the body. No matter how humble a person is seen to be, some elements of pride still remain in him, and sooner or later such a person manifests this pride in one form or the other; very often in the form of disobedience to authority. In her wisdom, the church uses this to test the loyalty of her priests and religious, by asking them to take the vow of obedience among others. She is aware that when the evil one casts his hook among these servants of God, his most reliable bait is disobedience to authority.
Unveiling the Role of Disobedience as a Tool of the Devil
Thus these anointed ones are often asked to vow to remain obedient to their superiors as a test of their purity of intentions. Rev.Msgr. Cormac Burke states that “without obedience, we are not going to be saved because salvation does not depend on having humanitarian or pious sentiments, but on fulfilling the will of God”. Our Lord himself made this clear when he said: “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my father who is in heaven” (Matt 7:21). Burke points out that even when we are struggling with all our strength and all our resources to serve God; preaching the word of God everywhere, performing miracles and wonders with the name of Jesus, spending long hours praying and fasting but are disobedient to any legitimate authority under which we are, we are not doing the will of God, and will not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt 7:21).
The Last Remnant of Pride:
If we are one of such people, then we fall into the group who on the last day will try to remind Jesus of how we have worked so hard to win souls for Him, and even performed miracles with His name, driving out demons and healing the sick. And Jesus will surprise us with this verdict: “I never knew you. Get away from me, you wicked people” (Matthew 7:23). And so, without knowing it disobedience has silently destroyed such apparently ‘holy’ ones who had all along worked so hard to please God. All that hell needs to claim us is just one grievous sin. To be guilty of one is the same as being guilty of one hundred. The Bible states that he who is guilty of breaking one of the commandments is guilty of all (James 2: 10).
To disobey any legitimate authority under which we have been placed by God’s plan for us amounts to not doing the will of God and, ipso facto, not being worthy to enter the kingdom of God. This is because to disobey such authority is to disobey God, just like Adam disobeyed God; because all such authority has come from Him. That we are under such authority was brought about by God’s plan for us. In other words, it is God who put us there; no matter how we thought we came into it. St. Paul stresses this point in Romans 13: 1-2 when he states: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resist what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” Here St. Paul speaks of obedience to legitimate civil authority: e.g. Authority of the father over children, husband over wife, master over the servant, Governor over his subjects etc. When it is a question of authority within the Church his words have even greater weight and force because the Church is Christ’s own very body which should be treated with much greater reverence and loyalty.
Disobedience vs. Salvation:
Sometimes we are tempted to disobey because we feel that we are doing something of value to God. In our zeal to put God first, we go against His will and thus incur judgment. The examples of Jesus in the scriptures will here suffice to teach us the way to follow when placed in similar circumstances. How many of us when carrying out some religious assignments (like teaching the word of God, conducting church service at a particular place or time, or visiting the sick or motherless babies’ homes with our gifts) will be prepared to listen to our bishop or our parents if they should order us not to go on with such pious work? Are we not likely to ignore them and disobey whatever counter-directive they may give us? Are we not likely to reason that since we are doing God’s work or what pleases God, no person, no matter who he is, can stop us? Does it not occur to us that God may have a very good and wise reason to have us suspend or stop that pious act, perhaps to do some good to the soul of some other person or even to our own soul? “His ways are not our ways” states the Holy Scriptures. He may be testing our humility and obedience. The state of the soul of this authority does not matter.
Even if we consider ourselves saints and regard him as a sinner, or see him as an agent of the devil, being used to stop the good work we are doing for God, it does not matter, and we are not exculpated.
The Shocking Verdict:
God still expects us to obey; God does not limit his choice of the human instrument He uses to bring about the fulfilment of His will to only the good or the holy. He uses any of His creatures the way He wants, to bring about His holy and loving will over us; Job was a holy man without fault, yet God used Satan as an instrument to torment him and test his faith (Job 2: 1-10). God used pagan king Nebuchadnezzar to torture and punish the Israelites, (His chosen people) when they went against His commands (2 Kings 25). Even if through our obedience to the legitimate authority over us in our state in life (clergy or laity) a mistake occurs, loss is sustained, or harm is done, the obedient servant always has little or no blame.
The blame always goes to the master. It is like in the military set-up. No soldier is ever blamed or punished for obeying the command of his captain to shoot at an enemy, even if the captain’s order or command seemed unreasonable or counterproductive. On the contrary, he runs the risk of losing his own life if he should fail to carry out his captain’s seemingly unreasonable or foolish order. This is because ‘a soldier on active service wants to please his commanding officer’ (2 Tim. 2:4). The commander-in-chief will only query and punish the captain if wrong orders had been given. The obedient soldier who carried out such an order goes free.
The Will of God:
If this soldier were to be commanded by his captain to commit rape or worship an idol for success on the battlefield, this is where he must disobey him, for God must be obeyed rather than man (Act 3: 19). God’s commandment must not be broken in order to please anybody. In this case, he must be prepared to die, rather than offend God. If this soldier should be shot in this circumstance for disobeying his master, he dies a martyr and goes straight to heaven. If it pleases God, he can still save him like He saved Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who chose to die rather than obey the order to worship a false god (Daniel 3). So, we have no excuse whatsoever to disobey as long as what we are asked to do or not to do does not amount to sin if obeyed.
Lessons from Jesus:
Our Lord Jesus Christ taught us how to be obedient with His own examples. After His parents, Mary and Joseph had spent three days searching for Him when He was twelve years old, they later found Him in the temple teaching and answering questions from learned men who marvelled at His great wisdom and knowledge. Although He was doing a very good work teaching them about God yet He immediately stopped that pious assignment and followed His parents home in obedience to their wish, even though it was proper for Him to be about His father’s business (Luke 2:49-51).
Again at the marriage feast at Cana Galilee, the celebrant exhausted his wine. His mother, Mary approached Him and merely said “They have no wine left”, Jesus at once knew what His mother wanted Him to do, and he complained to her: “It is not yet time· for me to begin such miraculous acts”. But because this request had come from none other than SHE WHO MUST BE OBEYED, He had to obey by changing the water at once into wine so that the celebrant could have more wine to share out (John 2: 1-19).
Disobedience and Martyrdom:
[There are however occasions when we are permitted to disobey; when we are ordered to do something sinful or which goes contrary to any of the commandments of God. We are bound to disobey such orders. God must be obeyed first before man. For example, God says ‘Do not steal’; if a father or a boss tells us to go and steal, we must refuse this order. We must tell him that God forbids stealing. We must here disobey him. Even if he threatens to terminate our appointment, or even kill us, we must be prepared to pay the price. If we should be killed for refusing to sin, we become martyrs. This was how Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego chose to die rather than obey King Nebuchadnezzar by worshipping a false god (Daniel 3: 12-30).
God’s Will Above All:
But as long as the order is not sinful if obeyed, and is coming from our legitimate superior, God expects us to obey.
The Cost of Obedience:
It does not matter if such obedience brings discomfort or pain; it is safer and better to suffer such pain or discomfort than to incur the wrath of God by disobeying.