Thursday, January 20, 2011

Exploring Obedience, Part 1: Dictionary Definition

Merriam-Webster’s definition of obedience:
n 1 : the act or instance of obeying  2 : the quality or state of being obedient
Therefore, Merriam-Webster’s definition of obedient:
adj : willing or inclined to obey [Old French, from Latin oboediens, from oboedire “to obey”]
And thus, Merriam-Webster’s definition of obey:
vb 1 : to follow the commands or guidance of  2 : to comply with : EXECUTE (obey an order)  3 : to behave obediently [Old French obeir, from Latin oboedire]
Interesting enough, I realized in my dictionary search that these words share the same Latin root as obeisance:
n 1 : a movement of the body made as a sign of respect : BOW  2 : DEFERENCE, HOMAGE [Middle French obeissance “obedience, obeisance”, from obeir “to obey”]
While clearly, the first few definitions explain what obedience is, I feel the last definition, that of obeisance, points to why we are obedient, out of respect.  Therefore, obedience should be a real part of our relationship with the Lord, for if we respect him, we follow his commands, both formal (for example, the Ten Commandments) and personal (His plan for each of our lives, our vocation, etc.).

But obedience should also play a role in our human relationships.  Our first relationships are typically those with our parents, and in those familial relationships, obedience plays a major role.  Just as we obey God out of respect, so should we obey our parents, after all the relationship between a parent and child should be modeled after the relationship between us and our Heavenly Father.  (Obviously, parents should never request anything of their child that would harm them, but should always act out of best interest for their child, just as God only asks us to do what is good for us - even if we are too shortsighted to understand his ultimate plan.)

Less obviously, obedience should extend beyond these original relationships to encompass all relationships, including those with spouses, friends, and acquaintances. We are asked by God to act with love toward others and to respect human life, therefore, I must be obedient to others by acting with love toward them.  No, this does not mean that I should do anything someone were to ask of me, but that I act with his/her best interest at heart.  To be obedient to my husband does not mean that I always have a spotless house, food on the table and answer to his every beck and call, but I do need to be obedient to the wedding vows I made to him.

If you look at obedience in this sense, parents should be just as obedient to their children as their children are to them through caring for them and sacrificing for their best interests.  In turn, being obedient to others is being obedient to God (if you look closely at the Ten Commandments, many of them are based on obedience to others as well as obedience to God - Obey Your Mother and Father, Thou Shall Not Commit Adultery, etc.).  

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