I have often struggled to comprehend authority that is not explicitly displayed. And so I have a problem truly understanding the operational authority in a situation if it is unseen. Yet in our lives much of the most important authority we will employ or be subject to is unseen.
I discuss this reality in helping husbands work through issues with their wife. In my recent trip to Europe I applied it for the first time to assist a young mother work through issues with her children.
Let me explain what unseen authority is in practice and how you can tap into it.
When we see authority enforced we tend to think of it as having bearing in a situation. If a sign says, “Do not walk on the Grass” and yet everyone does walk on the grass we see that the authority behind the sign is effectively non-existent.
When we see a security guard checking everyone and causing people to be detained and blocked from entry then we think of the authority as being effective.
This is what I mean when I say that we tend to respect authority when it is explicitly displayed. When we do not see an explicit display we tend to think of the authority as being of a lesser quality.
Unseen Authority is Real
While some forms of authority appear to be ineffective they can still be very real. Their reality may become apparent at some later time when recourse is finally applied. This is the case with God’s judgement of man’s sins. Many sinful people live all their life without any apparent recourse or judgement for their actions. But on the day of God’s judgement there will be a very evident display of the power and relevance of His authority.
But unseen authority is also real in other ways as well. Consider the authority which a patriarch has in passing down a family blessing to his children. In the case of Isaac, son of Abraham, the man was old and blind when it came time to pass the blessing. Isaac was of no economic value, having past his usefulness. He was able to be fooled by his wife and son.
Yet this useless old man had unseen authority. There were many things that Isaac could not do. He certainly could not have physically thrown his weight around and given us an explicit display of his authority, but he carried authority none-the-less.
The Unseen Transfer
When Isaac put his hands onto Jacob’s head he transferred the most potent family blessing in human history. Yet it was not charged with Hollywood effects or tinctured with electronic thrills.
The authority that flowed through Isaac was unseen and the transfer that came to Jacob was also unseen. And in just the same way there is an authority which we can employ that is just as invisible, but also just so powerfully effective.
Headship is Unseen Authority
What the Bible calls headship is actually invisible authority at work. It may or may not be seen in some explicit display, but it is equally as real either way. The problem that many people have in coming to terms with this unseen authority is that it is ‘unseen’ and they tend to think that authority must be demonstrated to be real. I hope I have at least opened your perspective a little on that score.
When the Bible teaches that parents have authority over the children and that the husband is the head of the wife these expressions of God’s authority (the government of God) are profoundly real, even if they are impossible to see with the naked eye.
The headship that God assigns is so powerful that it remains in force even when those who should be under that headship are in rebellion.
Did you get that? Headship and authority from God is so real and enduring that not only does it not have to be visible but it can even appear to be contradicted.
The Persistent Unseen Authority
For example, consider a man whose wife has chosen to leave him and live in a separate dwelling. As far as the visible expression of his authority over his wife is concerned it is nonexistent. So what is the reality?
Let us assume, for the purpose of this example, that the husband goes to God in prayer and tells God that the wife is no longer under the husband’s authority. The wife believes that to be true and so does the husband. But what does God say?
Imagine God calling the angels over with the record books to check the matter out. In God’s files what is the record of the authority over the wife? 1Corinthians 11:3 says that the wife is under the husband’s headship. Now the wife has decided to leave the husband. Did the wife’s action change God’s reality? That might best be answered by considering the question, “Is the authority assignment in God’s hands or man’s?”
The Government of God is determined by God and all the authority He assigns is as He assigns it. Mankind is not given the ability or authority to mess with God’s turf. So the authority given to the husband is persistent unseen authority. It persists even in the face of the wife’s rebellion against it. It is not authority based on explicit display, but on God’s supremacy.
Applying the Unseen Authority
In further posts I plan to elaborate on how I apply the truth about unseen authority into the circumstances of the marriage and parenting. Suffice it to say here that once we understand the persistent quality of God’s assigned authority we are better equipped to use that authority, at least before God’s throne, even if the people who should be under that authority have rejected it.