Much is ballyhooed these days about individual “rights” and authority. In the land of the free many seek to cast off any remnants of a rule of any kind that would seek to impinge upon their freedoms. Instead, they simply declare themselves to be autonomous. Autonomy, from the two Latin words auto meaning self, and nomos meaning law, is the delusion of absolute self-law, self-rule, self-governance, or self-adjudication. Mankind asserts in our individualism that we have the right to move unimpeded throughout the courses of our private little lives.
The main problem is that autonomy is an illusion; many other forces of “autonomy,” like photons, neutrons and electrons are colliding with our wills, and thus altering our trajectories. So much for absolute autonomy.
Autonomy maintains that we direct our own steps–that we determine our own thoughts and actions, and futures. In essence autonomy holds that we are the captains of our bodies and souls. Perhaps the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley best describes this:
Out of the night that covers me
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance,
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul.
“Unconquerable soul”, “not winced nor cried”, “unbowed”, “unafraid”, “master of my fate”, “captain of my soul”. I wonder how those words contended at the Judgment Seat will fare. Henley’s perception of his autonomy was not aligned with Biblical reality.
For little more than 50 years, Henley apparently lived this illusion until he surrendered his delusional authority to the greater foe of death, and now waits for the True Sovereign to set his eternal course.
Autonomy still rears its ugly head in the world today…
“My body, my choice.”
“Leave me alone!”
“I can do whatever I want to.”
“Don’t tell me what to do!”
“Don’t judge me!”
Our country has gone through some difficulties lately as it seeks to “allow” this delusion of self-rule. How can this possibly work? When tens of millions of people demand their own authority, there are countless collisions, and there are repercussions. Social decay. Chaos. Anarchy.
In the Old Testament book of Daniel (chapter 4:29-30), we find King Nebuchadnezzar living in his self-absorbed paradigm of prideful autonomy.
“He was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon. The king reflected and said, ‘Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?’”
Atop his palace, gazing upon the golden city of Babylon, the king asserts his “I did that!” moment. Void of any appreciation of Sovereign grace, he is soon given over to the tutor of reality until he recognizes that God is in sole charge of His Creation. God had full authority over the breath of the king and his ways.
Though it took 7 years, God was gracious to the king,
“But at the end of that period, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever” (Daniel 4:34a).
The king bowed the knee to a higher authority.
For some, it may not be until they draw their last breath that they understand all too clearly that they are not autonomous over their lives; that they are not autonomous even over their own bodies that are revolting against the tugs of death. I can only imagine the horror when it becomes suddenly clear that they are subject to a force higher than themselves. From the first breath to the last, all along we are all at the mercy of God for every subsequent breath and heartbeat.
The day will come when everyone will bow the knee to Christ and declare Him to be THE Sovereign Lord.
“For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11).
Eventually, both those destined to Hell, and those privileged to Heaven will confess Jesus is Lord over all. The Good News is that we the living have the grace to confess Him on this side of eternity.