Is listening to an authority figure hard for you?

This weekend marks the anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863). The outcome of the bloodiest Civil War battle could’ve been quite different had one man stuck to what his commander told him.

General Lee had his army in enemy territory in Pennsylvania. Lee was preparing to engage the Union—but not yet. He was waiting to get his full army in place, and he had commanded his men to avoid any contact with Union soldiers.

Major General Henry Heth ignored the order. Historians disagree on the reason, but it seems that Heth may have been interested in venturing into the town of Gettysburg—for shoes. He took some men into town to commandeer a shipment of shoes. But instead of finding a great sale on shoes, they came face to face with Union cavalry.

A fight ensued, of course, and other units came rushing in to provide reinforcement. The skirmish turned into a full-fledged battle with no strategic planning on either side. Lee’s plans were shot and he had to improvise. Three days later, between 46,000 to 51,000 men lay dead or wounded.

Had Heth obeyed Lee, would there still have been a Battle of Gettysburg? Probably. After all, General Lee was preparing for a skirmish in one way or another in Pennsylvania, but Heth’s disobedience led to an outcome that worked against Lee. And Heth’s disobedience worked against 46,000+ men who suffered and died.

Obedience matters.

Just this past month, two of the men in my Bible study group told me they hated following someone else’s orders. It’s like a wall goes up against authority—any authority.

I’ll admit some people in authority are hard to follow. I am currently reading a book: How Chance and Stupidity Have Changed History. Each chapter focuses on a major military defeat in history, and most of the defeats are tied to exceedingly inept people in charge.

However, before we just up and revolt against any and every authority, we should ask ourselves a couple of questions:

  1. Is what I’m being told to do dangerous to myself or others?
  2. Is it unbiblical?

Just because an order seems stupid or unnecessary to us is not a cause for disobedience. Frequently, those in authority see the bigger picture. They can be aware of other factors, consequences, or benefits we know nothing of.

And that is certainly true for the authority of Jesus Christ. He is sovereign Lord, and He sees the ultimate big picture. We must trust Him.

What is hard is trusting Christ when His Word says we must obey all authorities over us. 

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves” (Rom. 13:1-2).

No exclusions are for leaders who are inept or have serious character flaws. It comes down to a matter of conscience on how far you carry your obedience, but for me, it goes back to those same two questions:

  • Is what I’m being told to do dangerous to myself or others?
  • Is it unbiblical?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.


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