Monday, April 06, 2015

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 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.

Odd Connections

It reminds me, oddly enough, of some things I read in Ephesians. 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 ...”
Submission to authority is a principle that governs the Christian life, sometimes in more than one relationship.

Those folks in the third world have no choice about the impact distant authorities have on their lives. They are vulnerable to forces they may not even be aware of and to decisions made half a world away. But the act of submission — to husbands, fathers, government, elders — also puts people in a potentially vulnerable position, doesn’t it? Submission is a choice, but it’s rarely an easy one: by definition it’s not submission if we only do it when we find ourselves in agreement with authority.

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 Hazards of Responsibility

That’s one obvious corollary from Paul’s teaching on the subject. But here’s an even less appealing thought: men, if our wives and children obey the plain teaching of scripture and submit to our direction in their lives (and yes, I know that is not a currently popular notion), and elders, when those in your congregation submit to your direction, that puts us, at least potentially, in much the same position as those bumbling congressmen inadvertently demolishing the economies of the third world, doesn’t it?

It puts us out there twisting in the wind, dependent on the Lord to preserve us, our families and 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. Some people are afraid to lead because of it, and slough off their responsibilities on others.

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

Undermine or Undergird?

We may find logical reasons to think about wrestling responsibility away from people who misuse their positions of authority or simply don’t lead effectively. 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 obvious, but we might be tempted to carp at them until they lose their confidence and stop acting at all, or to gossip behind their backs or undermine them in some discreet way.

And when we are tempted to vent about incompetent authority, it’s useful to remember that those making decisions so very often encounter unintended consequences. Maybe they failed because something happened that could not possibly be foreseen, or because they didn’t pray enough about the choices they were making.

Or maybe — just possibly — somebody else didn’t pray enough.
“I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people … and all who are in high positions”.
I wonder, what unintended consequences result from our failure to pray?

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