When it’s appropriate to rebel

One of the objections I heard repeatedly when I pitched Alara’s Call to agents and editors was that because the heroine disobeys her father—who is also the prime minister—her behavior is unbilblical, because we are instructed to submit to authority.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.—Romans 13:1-2

This challenge led me to revise the book to make Alara’s dilemma quite clear: she disobeys the prime minister not out of sheer stubbornness, but because his order would require her to abandon her call from God.

Minuteman Statue

Minuteman statue in Lexington, Mass. • Photo by Gregory Runyan

Alara is not a child angry at being given a chore she dislikes. She is a grown woman: “a clergywoman with a ministry to tend,” as she puts it. I added a few lines in an exchange with her superior in the church to show that the prime minister has overstepped his bounds.

Challenges like these to our storytelling require a considered response. Even though my manuscript is already in the hands of my editor, I thought about this again this week, because Independence Day always brings this subject to mind. What were the Founding Fathers doing if not rebelling against authority? Clearly they believed they were answering a higher calling. An English philosopher had already made the case for limiting the powers of king and Parliament.

Their power, in the utmost bounds of it, is limited to the public good of the society. It is a power that hath no other end but preservation, and therefore can never have a right to destroy, enslave, or designedly to impoverish the subjects.—John Locke, Second Treatise on Government

The Founders saw the actions of the king and Parliament as contrary to “the public good of the society” in the colonies. And they may have had scripture on their side as well.

For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer.—Romans 13:3-4

If authority is God’s servant for your good, what happens when the authority does ill? What if doing what is good stands in opposition to the ruling authority? Our best biblical pictures of this are in the book of Daniel, but Paul and Peter both did their share of defying authority. Granted, they didn’t do it in armed rebellion, like the Founders. But they never obeyed a command to stop preaching, whether it came from the Romans or the Greeks or the Jews. They knew their calling and pursued it in the face of opposition.

For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor.—1 Peter 2:13-17

If we are meant to accept authority “for the Lord’s sake,” then clearly we cannot accept authority that requires us to defy God’s will. Fear God. Honor the emperor. In that order. And if one conflicts with the other…the choice is as clear as it was for Antigone.

CREON: And thou didst indeed dare to transgress that law?

ANTIGONE: Yes; for it was not Zeus that had published me that edict; not such are the laws set among men by the justice who dwells with the gods below; nor deemed I that thy decrees were of such force, that a mortal could override the unwritten and unfailing statutes of heaven.

About Kristen Stieffel

Kristen Stieffel is a writer and freelance editor specializing in speculative fiction. She's a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, Christian Editor Connection, and American Christian Fiction Writers.

2 comments on “When it’s appropriate to rebel

  1. At a bare minimum, we have to avoid the insidious role of Professor Weston in Lewis’s Perelandra — whispering stories of rebellion into Eve’s ear disguised as freedom.

    The key text from Perelandra is quoted here: http://www.thinkinghousewife.com/wp/2011/08/c-s-lewis-perelandra-and-the-feminist-lie/

    It sounds like your story actually runs up against a few issues re. rebellion: having a female clergywoman is not uncontroversial; then there is the issue of rebelling against the governmental authority; but more interestingly and difficult imho is that she is rebelling against her father. That she is older may not be enough to validate such rebellion theologically, since it is not clear when/if parental authority ever ends (not even w/ death in some instances in the Bible). I’m not judgin. I ain’t even read it. (throws hands up in a hands off signal). And wouldn’t judge anyways. But you have set yourself an uphill struggle.

    As to the question of Christian rebellion and the founding of America, it has been noted that the American revolution, unlike the French or Russian, followed Calvin’s lesser magistrate theory — such that they were not rebelling against authority at all. It would be like, for instance, if folks were to rally around a state governor or Alabama State Supreme Court Chief Judge Roy Moore and say, the Constitution is what we agreed to and not the interpretation of nine judges (or really just Kennedy, the one judge swing vote).

    Apologies for any typos. I’m on my phone. And no offense is intended at all. People can feel strongly. For instance, I once argued that the Disney fairies were problematic compared to cerin princesses. A Christian brother looked at me and said all Disney was hell spawn. I learned there’s always someone out there that’s even farther out.

    • LOL — yes, that’s very true. I’ve already had some run-ins with other believers about issues in the book, and I expect more. I’m going to tick off conservatives in some places and liberals in others, and I’m OK with that. 😉

      The Lesser Magistrate doctrine is exactly what I’m trying to point to! Thank you for giving me the proper name for this concept, which I understood but didn’t have a label for.

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