When one says the word ‘obedience’ we have to say that it often makes us feel negative toward it. Obedience is for children, not for adults. After all, happiness is being able to choose what one wants and to enjoy it! Or maybe not…
In addition, obedience, when it is conceived of as being blind, often is seen as an evil thing. Think of the architects of the Third Reich who, when brought to justice after World War II, said that they were merely carrying out orders given by their superiors. They were just being obedient and therefore doing their duty even if the result was the death of millions!
Blind obedience is not what I am extolling since all obedience must be to accomplish only what is moral and allowed by Almighty God. We have an obligation to refuse to be obedient if someone tells us to do what is forbidden by God. The Nazis never made that distinction. They just did what they were told. They should have resisted since the killing of innocent people is forbidden by God and they owed their ultimate obedience to God and not to Hitler.
Therefore, when I speak in glowing terms of obedience, I am not speaking of this blind obedience. God wants us to obey His voice above all the other voices that often demand contradictory things.
Now that we have detailed this very important exception to the rule, let us return to the importance of obedience to the commandments of God. The etymology of the word ‘obedience’ comes from the Latin for ‘listen’ or ‘hear’. A properly obedient person listens to the commandment with a prior openness that is essential. Many people have difficulty obeying God because they have an a priori (unacknowledged) prejudice against doing what someone else wants them to do. This often-hidden assumption is, many times, unknown to the person deciding whether to be obedient or not. Their default reaction is to refuse to do what they are asked to do by rightful authority. They are naturally rebellious without an awareness of this, so that when they are confronted by a commandment of God or His Church they immediately take a negative stance to it.
The heeding of God’s Word requires a certain pre-conscious openness that allows the Truth of God to enter into the consciousness of the human person. This openness is not universal. Many people have, without fully being aware of it, closed themselves to any possible inspiration of God by a preconscious willfulness that accepts the erroneous belief that there is no possibility of a Divine Agent (God) and, hence, no matter what, I will not (these words are essential: ‘will not’, not ‘cannot’) allow God to work in my heart and soul. One sees this, for instance, in atheistic scientists who are caught in their willed refusal to believe in anything that is not material and hence quantitative. (This is in opposition to scientists who have made the choice to believe and who therefore see their work within that context). By doing this they are using the scientific method that is to be used with material creation to dismiss anything spiritual, even though the material (science) and the spiritual (theology) are two separate domains that cannot be mixed. Thus, the unbelieving scientist, unlike the believing scientist, has made it impossible for the entry of grace into their life.
Saint John Henry Cardinal Newman realized this when he tried to convert his atheist brother to the Christian Faith. No matter what rational arguments he used to convince him, his brother simply would not consider it. He lacked a fundamental openness and a salutary self-critique to be able to hear what his brother was saying to him. He already willed that this was his belief: there is no god. Note that this is a belief just like the statement ‘God exists’. Neither of these statements can be rationally proved. Even the five proofs for the existence of God that Saint Thomas writes about are not scientific, rational proofs, but rather demonstrations that it is rational to believe in God.
This radical openness of the will is called obedience and one who is truly open in this way is joyful since their belief does not rest on argumentation but on a will act that can be reversed if the person is shown otherwise.
This is the joy of obedience: to accept the living God without proof and even with doubts.
Once the mind is connected with the graces given by faith, then the Holy Spirit releases the energy of love in the person, a love that does not depend either on the worthiness of the recipient nor on their mood. This love is therefore fearless and of such strength that nothing created can restrain it since it has been forged in a free decision to obey God without question or measure.
This is freedom. This is joy!