Obedience is an uncomfortable subject. Our society isn’t set up in a way that makes obedience a particularly attractive virtue. We have to suppress a thrill of pride when we think, “Oh, I’ve been particularly generous today,” or “I’ve been particularly hardworking,” but “I’ve been particularly obedient”? That just makes us sound like sheep. We want to be independent, and courageous, and intelligent; obedience may be a necessary evil, but it is not something to brandish over ourselves as a point of pride. Or so it seems to us. I want to suggest, however, that there is a way to make obedience a more attractive virtue—not any easier, but at least more tenable.
What exactly do I mean by obedience, and in particular obedience to God? Well, I don’t mean simply doing what God says for us to do. There are many reasons for us to do that. We could do his will because we think it will get us something in return—heaven, for example, or a comfortable life. We could do his will because it is immediately attractive to us—not too many people have a problem with the command to “be fruitful and multiply”. We could do his will because, even though it is not something we immediately want to do, we have been able to work out why he wants us to do it—that command not to lie might be tough, but after thought we understand that it really makes our lives simpler and better not to. All of these are completely valid reasons for obeying God, and ought to be encouraged. However, none of them are quite obedience in the sense that I am using the term, and none of them can quite stretch to cover all of the cases in which we are told to obey God.
The sort of obedience that I think is hardest for us, but that is ultimately necessary, is obedience without any reason that is intrinsic to the task itself. This is different than saying that we ought to be blindly obedient, without any reasons at all. We are not obeying “just because”; we are obeying because we trust the person who commands us to be right about what we need to do. There must be a personal relationship on which to base our obedience. The reason that we need to be obedient in the first place is that we are flawed and finite; we are not able to perfectly reason out what we ought to do without outside help. However, if we believe in some divinity that is not personal, or in abstract laws that govern right action, we are forced to fall back on our own flawed reasoning to decipher these laws and test out their truth. If we believe in a personal God, however, there is someone great than us who can guarantee the truth and rightness of what he commands, even when they are beyond our own mental ability.
This, then, is what obedience comes down to: trust. Do we trust that God does, in fact, know the right way for us to live? Do we trust that he will tell us this right way? Do we trust that he really holds our best interests at heart? If we do, then we ought to be obedient, even if we don’t understand why.
Because we can trust Him.