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Can Authority be Abused?

Photo by: fanz Francois de Halleux

Can the authority God gives be misused? The question may seem, at best, like a no-brainer.

How else can we explain corruption of power or the evil things people do in the name of God?

But I’m increasingly convinced that it’s important to carefully weigh the difference between God-given authority, strength, power, and freedom.

Here up front is where this is going.

As I understand the intent and nature of God-given authority, it is possible to misuse power, strength, and freedom. But it is not possible to misuse the authority God gives. That’s because God never gives authority (i.e. his sanction and approval) to do anything other than to do good in his behalf.

I’d like to develop this further in the next couple of posts, but will stop here for now to see whether you agree that we’ve seen enough abuse of power in government, church, and home, to take a more careful look at the difference between authority, power, and freedom.

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36 Responses to “Can Authority be Abused?”

  1. SFDBWV says:

    Ok Mart, I will ask if you see a difference between power and authority from God?

    In Isaiah, 44:28 and 45:1, Cyrus was clearly given power and authority to be in control of events.

    Are we then to believe that Cyrus did everything good, nothing bad?

    How about Darius? How about Nebuchadnezzar? Daniel 1:2 Whereby the Lord gave victory to Nebuchadnezzar, and the sacking of the temple and carrying away of Israel into captivity…All for God’s purpose yes,but to do good?

    If you mean that the evil, purpetrated by the people God placed in authority, was all done for a good purpose, that over time would be seen as such, then I could say yes that every person God gives authority to only does good….by God using their evil deeds to exact a good outcome.

    However to say that all people God has placed in authority only does good things I can not simply agree with.

    God allowed for Satan to torment Job….a good thing?

    Samson….Given authority killed people and sought after his own pleasures even commiting suicide….All a good thing on God’s behalf?

    David, murdering Uriah so he could have his wife…A good thing?

    Sorry Mart I can’t agree. People misuse authority all the time, and as I see it, especialy authority God has given them.


  2. xrgarza says:


    I agree with you whole-heartedly,

    Because of free will and lack of proper training/mentorship it is easy to abuse any kind of authority.

    When my son got married he and his wife stayed with me while their new place was being refurbished. He came to me and said “Dad the way I see it, since I’m the only man in the house with a wife that makes me the head of the house”.

    Trying not to crack a smile or into laughter, I instructed him to hold that thought as I went for the mortgage and all of the other household bills & told him that he could be the head of household anytime he desired to.

    Recently we had this exchange of words and thoughts, he has been very successful with his family and in his career. He has been married almost 12 years, has two children and as a project manager he manages several supervisors.

    He said to me “Dad, you need to take a communication class and not me, because everyone in my circle listens and understands me, except you”.

    When I got home I realized and was able to explain to him that we both communicate quite well, it’s not a grammatical communication issue as much as it is an understanding of his authority boundaries. As the authority of his home his wife and children submit to his authority, his employees respect him and submit to his authority.

    I shared with him that as his father it would be awkward if I expected him to submit to my authority as he did when he was a child, similarly even though he has authority over many and that I have a great deal of respect for him, he still is not my authority.

    I can see how authority can be abused again lack of mentors and accountability. Without the proper training he would continue to believe that he was my authority, if I had said nothing, increasing in his frustration.


  3. poohpity says:

    I believe that all authority that is given by God to accomplish the purposes God needed done. (i.e. Gen 41:35; Num 27:20; Deut 1:15; Mark 3;15, 6:7). When that authority is abused God removes that authority. Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt 28:18). I guess that there is a difference in God given authority and the authority that people give themselves. In other NT passages that God given authority is used to build up others and the name of God (i.e. Luke 9:1).

  4. Mart De Haan says:

    I understand the disagreement and welcome it. It will give us a good chance for all of us to test our view of authority.

  5. SFDBWV says:

    Rocky, That is a delightful and wonderful story. You have good reason to be proud of your son.

    Been thinking about this subject today, I am reminded of the authority Adam was given over the earth, that too didn’t seem to work out very well. As we decendants of Adam also have that authority, I see we are just getting worse.

    Also thinking about Popes, Preachers, pastors, bishops, elders, teachers ect within the church…They all are supposed to be empowered from above for their jobs. Wondering if there has ever been any abuse of power within those groups…

    Now if one takes the idea, that any of the people whom are in authority within the church are *not* authorised by God to be in those positions in the first place, that opens up the thought as to how do we know who is and who isn’t. What system of placing these people of authority has proofs in place to substanciate the claim of being empowered from God?

    The old saying that “power corrupts, and that absolute power corrupts absolutely”, has its earthly truth.

    We read and have come to accept that earthly kings and rulers are placed into those positions from God, and that because of such we are to follow their laws and not to criticize them….Because God has given them their place and power…authorized by God.

    Can we say that such people over the history of man have not abused their power?

    Leaning on the scripture for insight, we see where whenever a king of Israel fell out of favor with God, God replaced him. But guess what? The first king fell out of favor with God because he abused his power. No better examples are given then King Saul, King Jerobam, and King Ahab. There seems to be an endless list of failed evil rulers of Israel….

    It seems very interesting to think that God empowered such people and that the freedom they possess gives them the power to thwart God’s intentions. Or does it only appear that way?

    Sorry I am starting to ramble….See everyone tomorrow.


  6. davids says:

    The usual scripture for respecting authority is, Romans 13:1-3, “Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished.”

    And the usual objections are about the Nazi authorities and the fact that the US was founded by revolution.

    Moving more broadly, the premise is, “That’s because God never gives authority (i.e. his sanction and approval) to do anything other than to do good in his behalf.” I thought about two pastors that graduate from the same seminary, lead similar lives and become leaders of similar congregations.

    We would say that each had God-given authority. But let’s say we learn that one is found to have abused his position in an egregious way. The premise means that God’s authority was not really given to the one that visibly sinned. Of course, we also know that the other one did not live a perfect life.

    This slippery slope leads me to wonder at what point a person’s sins indicate after the fact that his authority had not been given by God. I also wonder whether the distinction is really useful, except in retrospect.

    So, I think that I would line up with others here that authority is always God-given, like free will, but often abused in practice.

    Loved the illustration, Rocky.


  7. plumbape says:

    When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.
    Mark Twain

  8. Bob in Cornwall England says:

    All authority is given by God, as Jesus said to Pilot. Jesus then submitted Himself to Pilots authority unto death.
    Even the anti christ’s authority in the last days is only his because God has allowed it.
    Yes we all can abuse authority for evil, as when a priest is caught with his trousers down, or the abuse of young people in his care, but authority is given by God and God alone.
    Nebuchadnezzar was given authority to take the children of Israel into captivity, that authority was also taken away from him by God.
    Authority is only given for a season to man, eternal authority belongs to Christ and is bestowed on Him by the Father. Jesus, the Lamb that was slain, who IS and was and is to come.


  9. plumbape says:

    God’s ways are not man’s ways…. How can the finite understand the infinite…?
    If government makes laws that are immoral I will choose to break the law to honor God.

  10. Mart De Haan says:

    Would church bishops say that they gave parish priests authority to abuse children?

    Maybe another way of thinking this through would be to shift the reference to a parental example. How might we finish the following sentence?

    Fathers could say “God has given me the authority to (i.e. authorized me to_________…..)

  11. scout1 says:

    God also gave man authority over taking care of the earth. Some take that serious and others don’t.

    Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? I Corinthians 1:20

    He spoke and it was done: He commanded, and it stood fast. Psalm 33:9

    For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of the soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and INTENTS of the heart. Hebrews 4:12

    Maybe, authority is so inter-twined with intent, wisdom and permission to execute it, that God IS the only authority. We have responsibility, and we are directed by the Holy Spirit under HIS authority. So, we then are servents, stewards, and instruments used of God! With the blessing of also being sons and daughters! :)

    I liked your story too, Rocky!

    Blessings. ;)

  12. marma says:

    God’s authority is an interesting concept. Christ had authority over demons, yet he also submitted to human authority and was crucified.

    Saul was anointed as king, but then God anointed David to be king. Saul remained on the throne for several years after David’s anointing, but without the blessing or communion with God. God rejected Saul, and yet David referred to Saul as “the Lord’s anointed.”

    Jesus is the king of kings, yet we still are operating under human government, which God has ordained.

    When talking about authority and power, I wonder if we are correct in dividing them? They seem to go together most of the time.

    I Cor 15:24 is an interesting verse in that regard, where authority is mentioned along with power:

    “Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.”

    Until Christ comes, we are still under the authority of government, for good or ill, and God will not remove it until Christ comes, if I understand the verse correctly.

    I think these are difficult concepts for us who live in democracies or republics, since we have more than the usual say in who governs us (or at least, we think we have).

    If the question is, because God granted authority, does that mean God is granting permission to abuse the authority and so is somehow authorizing abuse of authority. This almost sounds like a philosophical quest to me. I would have to answer “NO, He isn’t authorising the abuse” and that is easy. Explaining why isn’t, other than to echo, God is good, and He is not the author of the evil that is done in this world.

  13. poohpity says:

    God has given me authority to nurture, care, teach, feed, and shelter my children. He has given me authority to raise them in a fashion that develops dependence on God and interdependence with others. I do not have the authority to beat, scorn, name call, or abuse them in any manor. Although I have the power and freedom to treat them in an authoritative way by demanding that my ways be followed with no questions and not empower them to think for themselves. The power delegated (authority) to me is to be used to benefit them for the good.

  14. Mart De Haan says:

    I really appreciate the effort you all are putting into this. Whether “authority can be abused” depends in part on how we define and use our terms. I believe what is far more important is that over time, our Lord’s definition of authority in his kingdom has been downplayed while his people have settled for the world’s view of authority in both home, church, and government.

    Jesus’ example of ministry is not a power-based idea– unless by that we mean that it finds its strength and power to do good and serve others–in him.

    What I hope to develop in following posts is that, on closer look, New Testament passages that emphasize the power and authority of Christ do not actually focus on his power over us– as much as the loving power and authority he is offering to express with and through us as we join him in loving others.

  15. Mart De Haan says:

    poohpity, seems to me that you have described the heart of authorization and enablement (authority and power) that comes with whatever gifts God gives to the members of Christ’s body, for the sake of one another.

  16. SFDBWV says:

    I am hesitant to say anything this morning not knowing whether or not Mart is going to continue his train of thought and post a new topic. Or if he is waiting for more disscussion on the first one….Confused. 1Cor 14:33

    If Mart is trying to say that every good thing we do is authorized by God for our doing, and that every bad thing we do is not. Then at what point do we say that we have the *freedom* to do either and are by nature of that freedom given authority to do either?

    Does that sound confusing?

    If God authorizes me to be able to make choices on my own, that would be free will, authorized from God.

    If I by use of that free will, sin, then I have abused my freedom…that was given /authorized from God.

    In John 8;7 Jesus asks the crowd “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.”

    This story states that there is no one without sin, except the Christ. All have sinned and come short of the Glory…all have abused our authorized freedom of choice and fell short.

    God may have intended for us not to sin, He may even have wanted us not to, but He gave us the ability to make choices…He authorized our ability to choose.

    With that freedom comes the opportunity for abuse.


  17. rxman says:

    I believe that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present. As was stated in an earlier comment, Jesus told Pilate that all authority is given by God.

    As to weather that authority is “abused”, we can only see the results with our finite eyes and mind. What is seen as abuse may be exactly what God had planned (see Jesus’s crucifixion).

    we may not like the way that God does things, but we are not God. Only He knows what is best.

  18. BruceC says:

    After 27 years in police work I know quite a bit about authority and the abuse of it that I witnessed many times over. Seen it in “family” life too. (Memebers acting as if they had authority to order others around; and still do by the way)
    I am just going to hold off on any post of substance as I am slightly confused as to where Mart is taking this.

    Soli Deo Gloria!

  19. foreverblessed says:

    I agree with Steve, and others here, that authority can be abused, because God gave free will and so He allows mistreatment.
    Is a person in God given authority misuses it, God does not immediately take away that authority.
    That is a hard thing to swallow, but it is fact.
    Many have written it here, but one more example is king Saul,
    Talking about delay

    He let Saul remain king for a long time.
    And He used that time to mold the character of the next king to be David.
    (1 Samuel 15 to 2 Samuel 5 v4 David was 30 years old when he finally became king over all Israel, that must have been around 14 years of trouble with an abusive king Saul)

    So if God allows abuse, it must be clear in a later stage what He used it for, maybe not even in this life.
    Because in God’s realm, nothing happens that He cannot turn around.
    Like the worst sins in man can be turned around to the best quality in man
    Thanks to the Cross of Christ.
    The cross is such a miracle
    It was God’s solution to allowing evil.
    And to allow free will
    It is so essential to Him that we willingly and freely come to Him, and not by demand of His authority.

    We have this ministry of reconcilation, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21
    reconcile anything that has gone wrong.

  20. foreverblessed says:

    When looking at the picture, I begin to feel where Mart is going to.
    My flu is gone, (thanks Steve for asking, that did me good) and at the end of 2 weeks the migraine hit back. It felt like a war going on.
    Now I feel like being reborn, new, and healthy…
    But we stand firm in faith in Jesus, He has overcome the world. Even if it looks we are defeated, by illnes, or by abusive authority, Jesus is in us,and He is Victorious 1 1 Peter 5:10-11

  21. SFDBWV says:

    Bruce, I remember you were a deputy sheriff, and may I again say thank you for a life of service to your fellow man.

    We had a very horrible crime committed here over twenty + years ago. A 19 year old girl was tricked into meeting a man who kidnapped and murdered her, her body never found.

    As it turned out it was a deputy sheriff that abused his possition and was found guilty of her murder.

    When Israel was in the wilderness, Moses was given authority to lead them and govern them…Moses, overwhelmed, bestowed that authority to judge upon others so that his workload was lessened…Authority given from God to Moses to Judges to others to carry out the structure of a society.

    As the authority was passed down from top to bottom, it was, and is still, had its beginning point from God.

    God gave authority to Jesus, who gave authority to His disciples who gave authority to the leaders in the structure of the Church.

    Even the altar boy has his authority given through a procession of others from God…

    Sin, has spoiled all the good intentions of God and man. Sin changes everything it comes into contact with.

    Jesus placed Judas in the position of being treasurer for their group…Jesus didn’t tell Judas it was ok to steal from the treasury, but Judas was authorized to be the treasurer, the freedom to either abuse that position or honor it was given to Judas to choose which to do.

    Found in 1 Kings 22:15 is a story where God authorizes a lying spirit to go and “put a lying spirit of all these thy prophets” the purpose of seeing God’s will to be done in the matter.

    I think like plumbape stated above, there is much more to God than we can imagine, and trying to put Him in a box never works.


  22. Mart De Haan says:

    Steve, I’d like to let the discussion go for another day. I agree that we cannot put God in a box– which is what I think has too often been done when human authority is confused with God’s authority.

    Bruce made a comment about seeing family members acting as if they have the authority to push others around.

    One of my reasons for starting with a kind of “riddle” is because of the many situations in which people assume they have authority– and act as if they have authority– but actually just have power or strength that is used for their own purposes.

  23. poohpity says:

    I think a good example of the difference in authority and abuse of authority (authoritarian) is this blog. Although they have the authority to delete posts that do not comply with the comment guidelines but give the freedom to those who post to talk about many things. If they developed the attitude of being authoritarian there would be no leeway at all, bottom line either follow the rules or your post will be deleted. The choice to follow the guidelines is ours out of respect for the blog author so we are given the authority to do good. Christ living in us has authority to guide our speech so that it will bring about good and not harm another if we take time to ask Him to have authority over our mouths which I have not allowed Him full authority over yet, lol. :-(

  24. dinakar says:

    I believe God has His hand in all that happens to me. In every circumstance and situation. No authority by any one both good and bad affects me without His approval per say. Many a time I have fallen is due to my pride (albeit by some authority figure visibly misusing it) but God is always at work in me – Rom 8:28
    The biblical character Joseph in Genesis is a good example before every fall in his life you would find a pride statement.

  25. glengep says:

    Great devotional! We would like to read more of the same subject! Glen & Karen

  26. mlabbe says:

    This is very interesting and as I am new at this I probably should not say too much. But my view is that God is in charge of everything, and we just haven’t figured it out yet. Perhaps when people in authority commit evil, and abuse the power they have, then it may be allowed in order for us to change our ways. He wants us to come back to Him. But in the case of abuse of people in families and elsewhere, I don’t believe that God sanctions that at all. This free-will that we are given has it’s downside for sure.

  27. frankh says:

    Having lived under a brutal dictartorship for 15 years, it’s hard to think that kind of authority but an evil manifestation through a megalomaniacal personality. Tyranny, in all its guises, must be resisted — to do otherwise is to invite more opression. This applies not only in the secular world but, also, to some unfortunate cases of dictatorial pastors who through their unchecked hubris believe their authority is unchallengeable. And to men who tend to rule their family like a fiefdom, pride goeth before a fall. I’ve seen too many cases of oppressed spouses under the heavy hand of the “submission rule.” What ever happened to equality under love?


  28. davids says:

    Trying to follow Mart’s attempts to guide this conversation…

    Fathers could say “God has given me the authority to (i.e. authorized me to_________…..)” Teach my children and punish them in appropriate ways when they fail to do as instructed.

    Now there might be two reactions to that. First, some would say, “What about serving them and loving them?” Yes, these are very important, but they are not aspects of power and authority. I can choose to love and serve people over whom I have no power or authority. The fact that I have power means that I have some authority.

    Second, some might say, “Well that’s very Old Testament”. If you have power over someone, then you have authority. The authority is how you communicate the use of your power. If I say to my teen, “Go to church on Sunday or else you can’t use Facebook all week”, then I am expressing my authority with the threat to use my power (or the power of someone else).

    I also have authority over other people, like my employees, although not as much power. I could abuse that power by misusing my authority.

    It seems that we should just be clear about the abilities of those in power and their responsibilities, as opposed to those that simply have free will in a situation to do good or evil, or the authority to spread the Good News.

  29. davids says:


    I sympathize with you. Almost all of use have at some time suffered under an abuse of authority – a bad parent, an unfair boss. Although probably not as brutal and not as long as 15 years.

    On the other hand authority has it’s place. Can their be a good household where the parents do not excercise authority? A good workplace where there are no rules? A good church where there are no boundaries?

    Abuse of authority is the downside, but authority allows us to lead productive and organized lives.


  30. rockintheboat says:

    It is interesting that I received this e-mail today as I have been having conservations with friends about this issue. I do believe that God-given authority can and is abused on a daily basis by parents, teachers, etc. I also think that this abuse can be subtle. I find that in the church there are “demands” placed on people in the name of God that may not be in line with what God is speaking to a person or where they are spiritually. In pondering this, I thought about how we all as believers struggle with the flesh. This struggle is something that God himself said we would have when he said that the Spririt and flesh war against each other. None of us is perfect and even those in authority struggle with the flesh and may abuse their God-given authority when relating to those under that authority. My comment is meant to speak to the subtle abuses of authority thay may not even be recognized by the person doing the abusing.

  31. jhwalk56 says:

    I have become increasingly concerned about whole ministries that have recently developed around “spiritual abuse”. Why? Because how does one become critical or even analyze a church’s approach to church discipline? How does one say that something is manipulation or merely edification to labor in the work of God? How does one proclaim whether something is abusive or within the parameters of “reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness”. Regrettably, well intentioned believers think nothing of broadcasting criticism of the church and\or its pastors, to the rest of the world.

  32. frankh says:


    Thanks for your response. I hope I didn’t come across that I don’t like authority. Far be from it. Boundaries are necessary, otherwise chaos would rule. It’s just that authority has to be responsible, accountable, responsive and yet restrained, just, respected, supported. From the examples I’ve been exposed to and for the human penchant for selfish control that I’ve seen, it makes me wary. Perhaps I’m looking for an impossible balance in an imperfect world. But submission to our Lord Jesus is imperative. It creates a humble spirit and a servant’s heart.


  33. davids says:


    This relates to a few recent comments. I hope that I have a healthy distrust of authority. If we accept the idea that authority might be abused then it is our rsponsibility to ensure that our submission is in line with the Word.

    We cannot know in advance whether authority is Godly, but we can try to align our response with the Holy Spirit working within us.


  34. cowboypoet says:

    Anything given by God, be it authority, position, relationship, wealth or power or anything else of God, I think, is pure from God and requires us to mess it up. Adam and Eve was given dominion over the earth and when they messed up (ie. “sinned”), it no longer was of God but of the Tempter. God is not the author of confusion or sin. That belongs to Satan. Misused authority is a tool Satan uses to destroy lives and ministries. God in His infinite wisdom and sovereign power and authority may use our weakness to show His power.

  35. ceci5 says:

    Hello! Mart, as a teenager and through the years since my first instinct is not to trust others. I have a pretty good idea where it stems from. In my early 20s I wanted to become a police officer. I had lived a semi-functional life up to that point. I was a criminal justice undergrad and had completed an internship with a law enforcement agency. I thought this was what I wanted to do. My mentor had been by my side through the entire process hoping I would make it through the initial screening. All went well until I took the mental health screenings. In all, I had taken 5 psychological exams. I never knew the scores and wasn’t sure how they would come out. The following day my mentor brought me into his office and shared the results. “I have a problem with authority” and this may affect my ability to perform as an officer right now. He chalked it up to my youth and inexperience, but I knew why. It was because of the years I dealt with abuse of authority in the Catholic church I grew up in, in the schools I went to and the places I worked. I saw in that short time how someone in a position of power used their authority to abuse the system and the people involved. I had been abused by many systems as a single mother and in a dysfuntional family. People in positions of trust using their authority in ways they shouldn’t. I always dreamt that I would work in the internal affairs department and weed out the corrupt cops. I had seen Serpico in one of my undergrad classes and thought wow- I want do that. I was excited and didn’t think about the risk. Needless to say I never became a police officer. I became a counselor. I still have a problem with authority, but this time I am wiser. I have the ability to question and hold people accountable. I’ll agree that society needs some type of authority or else chaoe would ensue, I just pray those in positions of authority act ethically, morally and courageously.

  36. Regina says:

    Good Evening All,

    Off topic here…
    Just dropped by to say hello. =) I hope all is well with you all. Still catching up on the blog topics and comments, and enjoying every minute of it! I think I mentioned in a previous blog that I’m in the choir at my church and we’re preparing for a Christmas production that will include all of the fine arts ministries at my church. The preparation has been a lot of fun! I also want to thank you again for your prayers (whenever you go to God on my behalf I appreciate it so much), and I’m so grateful for your friendship. Well, I guess I’ll get back to reading comments on previous blog topics.

    Low 50’s in Texas tomorrow.

    Love & Blessings,

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