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Saturday, January 04, 2014

Unintended Consequences

When they passed The Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) in 2007, it is quite unlikely that the U.S. congress anticipated that their little bill would trigger a cereal grain price jump of 67.4% in 2012 over 2011, or that the rise in food prices would plunge nearly 70 million people into what the World Bank calls ‘extreme poverty’. The Houston Chronicle details the extent of the problem here.

Good Intentions

What prompted the EISA? We are told it was the desire to reduce dependency on foreign oil, scale back greenhouse gas emissions and keep the price of gas down. None of these are bad ideas. While I am as easily attracted to conspiracy theories as the next guy, I doubt the average elected representative planned on starving the third world to reduce U.S. gas prices.

But the unintended consequences of the Act have caused and continue to cause near-incalculable damage.

An Odd Connection

My oddball synapses make what is probably not the most intuitive connection between this issue and something I read in Ephesians this morning. Paul writes:
“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord … Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right … Bondservants, obey your earthly masters.”
The Cost of Submission

See, not intuitive. And I’m not thinking about the biblical doctrine of submission itself so much as the consequences of it. Here’s where I’m going with this:

Submitting to those authorities to whom we have been called by God to submit — to husbands, fathers, government, employers, elders — puts us in a terribly vulnerable position, doesn’t it? And really, it’s not submission if we only do it when we agree with the authority on a particular issue.

But it’s rebellion if we don’t.

And rebellion puts us in danger of the judgement of God. Paul says to children that they should obey in order “that it may go well with you and that you may live long”. That’s a fairly serious reason to be characteristically obedient as a Christian.

The Dangers of Responsibility

That’s one obvious corollary from Paul’s teaching on the subject. But here’s another for those of us who find ourselves exercising authority over others:

Men, if your wife and children obey the plain teaching of scripture and submit to your direction in their lives (and yes, I know that is not a currently popular notion), that puts you in much the same position as those bumbling congressmen screwing up the third world, doesn’t it?

As men, it puts us out there twisting in the wind, dependent on the Lord to preserve both us and our families, employees and sometimes churches from the unintended consequences of our choices.

That’s a scary thought. For some, it’s paralyzing. Because we will have to give an account.

Frankly, many of the authority figures in our lives are not that smart. And in many ways they often let us down.

We may find logical reasons to think about wrestling responsibility away from people who use their positions of authority to act like idiots. After all, we just know we could do a better job at it.

Okay, maybe we wouldn’t stage an actual coup or do anything demonstrably wrong, but we might be tempted to beat them down verbally for their stupidity or carp at them until they lose their confidence and stop acting at all, or to gossip behind their backs or undermine them in some way.

And when we are tempted, it’s useful to remember that those making decisions so very often encounter unintended consequences. Maybe they failed because they didn’t pray enough about the choices they were making.

“I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people … and all who are in high positions,” Paul says elsewhere.

Or maybe — just possibly — somebody else didn’t pray enough.

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