“rules were made to be broken.” ever heard that? i’ve always had a hard time with that concept. not because i’m a holy-rolling guy who’s never broken a rule before in his life – trust me, i’ve broken plenty. no, i’m just really bad in the aftermath of having broken a rule. i don’t like what happens next. i don’t like being caught in a lie – i feel really gross. i don’t like being caught period. i feel terribly embarrassed, i feel ashamed and scared and small.
i guess there’s some verity to that sentiment though, yeah? i mean, you never really know why a rule’s in place until you’ve broken it.
which is exactly why rules are there, because you find out real quick what happens when you don’t follow it.
you following me?
i’ll try again, just in case i need to.
rules, in and of themselves, usually leave out their reasoning. at least, i think that’s accurate. the reasoning is either implied or trusted a lot of the times.
“NO PARKING” usually means: “normally you could park here, but if you park here, it’s gonna block traffic, or we’re gonna close off the road for a parade and you’re not going to be able to leave and you’ll hate us and we’ll hate you so why don’t you just not park there?” (but, of course, that doesn’t fit on a sign.)
“DO NOT WALK ON GRASS” usually means: “hey, we just planted fresh seeds or treated the grass (or whatever reason you’d put up a do not walk sign, i don’t really know) so we’d appreciate if you didn’t undo what we just did by walking on it. give us just a few days, ok?”
“DO NOT FEED THE ANIMALS” usually (probably) means: “hey, see these cool animals we’ve got in a zoo? (please, for the sake of argument, do not take into account the morality/immorality of zoos.) they’re cool, right? welllllll, we’ve got a really specific diet we feed them. and i know it sounds crazy, but if you feed them that bag of peanuts you just bought, then there’s gonna be all kinds of stuff in their system that we’re trying to avoid them having, and they may not respond well to it, so enjoy your peanuts and trust us to feed them, ok? ok. thanks.”
the reason that we have stop signs and stop lights and yellow lights and other traffic signals is because if we didn’t have any, then a bunch of maniacal folks in one-ton death machines would be zooming around anywhere between 25 and 55 miles an hour and there’s no telling who would hit who, sooooo, just stop when you see red, cool? thanks.
point is, rules are usually there for a good reason. i’m convinced that, despite the craziness of the world we live in, the vast majority of rules have the good of someone or something at heart and while we may not think they apply to us (i’ve got a big maverick streak in me, so i get it) if everyone thought that way, then nobody would follow any rules and our world would be chaos.
you and i live in a world that regularly rejects the rules God gave us. and, i get it. there is a way that seems right to a man. that’s so true that Solomon wrote it twice (see: Proverbs 14:12; 16:25.) but also twice, he wrote that that way leads to destruction or death. in other words, Solomon is saying, “yeah, i know that you don’t think that rule that God gave you is a good rule. go ahead, try it: but it probably won’t end well for you.”
you know, some people may think that sounds harsh. maybe sounds, i don’t know – confrontational, or condescending, or inciting, or whatever you want to call it. kinda sounds like Solomon is inviting us to try stuff out, and it sounds a little threatening. and a lot of us, like a kid in a movie, decide that we’re gonna go in the basement anyway, because we’re not scared of the boogeyman – we’ve got something to prove. we’re our own masters. we don’t conform to the rules, right?
for me, this was: “yeah, i know, God – i know You said that it’s a good idea to save sex until marriage, but, You see, i love this girl.” (i didn’t love her.) so, that’s (more or less) what i did. and it didn’t go well for me. i got insecure, got jealous, got scared, got a chip on my shoulder, got mad at the church, and was convinced that if it weren’t for all this church-talk about how you shouldn’t be sexually involved with someone before marriage, then i wouldn’t feel so bad. so, my guilt was all the church’s fault, or so i said.
or, “yeah, God – i know You said that we should take care of our money and be good stewards, but one day i’ll have such a good job that i’ll be able to pay for this, and i’ll pay it off then.” aaaaaand i racked up a few thousand bucks in credit card bills. and i’m still fighting to pay ’em down. and it’s holding me back from a few things i’d like to do with my life (get a car, save to make a down payment on a house, stuff responsible adults should be able to do) because that’s the consequence. that’s what happens when i don’t treat money wisely.
have you got any stories like that? i’ll bet you do – and i encourage you to get real honest with yourself about it.
the reason i’m writing is this: God has an order for the world. He’s got a way that He envisions the world working, and get this: it’s perfect. it’s actual perfect. if we followed the design that God set up for the world, then it’d be pretty dandy, and things would go pretty well for us. in fact, God uses this sort of language with one specific commandment when He’s giving out the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20. He says, “honor your father and mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.”
i’m not sure if i’m enough of a Bible scholar to tell you why God included that qualifier with that particular commandment, but i’m beginning to wonder if i need to be. i’m beginning to wonder if this is one of those times when – just like we do (so maybe we got it from God) – God is getting a little ahead of Himself with some of the rules and then remembers, “oh, yeah, and before I go any further this is why i’m giving you these rules – so that it’ll be well with you. that your days may be long.” (if you think that God doesn’t ever get His thoughts mixed up and get ahead of/behind Himself, see Genesis 3:22)
a lot of people think that God is terribly judgmental and vindictive and vengeful – maybe that has something to do with all of the language of judgment, vindication, and vengeance He uses in the Bible – but i’m gonna submit a bit of a theory to you.
my thought is this: God’s not like a policeman in a car, watching and waiting for someone to break a rule so He can pop on His lights, chase ’em down, and arrest them for breaking the law. no – if God were like a cop, i think He’s the type that sits in His car at a busy intersection and sees someone fly through at 55 miles an hour when there was a red light, and there’s an accident. and He mourns it. and He wishes they’d stopped at the red light, because it would have been better for them.
in other words, maybe the judgement of God is that He doesn’t always intervene when we mess up. that He waits on us to get desperate and ask Him for help. (i won’t lie – i’m a little nervous that i may have let myself down with the analogy, but hopefully i can land this plane.) like, maybe the judgement of God doesn’t look like Him getting really mad and beating people up when they screw up. maybe it just looks like things unraveling when they were supposed to stay together, because God made us – like Himself – with agency and when we don’t do the right things with that agency, then things don’t go right.
maybe – i suppose my point is – God doesn’t have to do anything to make our lives hard when we don’t obey Him. maybe a hard life is the natural consequence of not obeying Him.
consider a few references: in John 3:18, Jesus said that whoever does not believed is condemned already, as if to say, God doesn’t have to do any extra condemning when someone doesn’t believe in Jesus. because we’re already condemned. because our world already lives under a curse (thanks, sin, and again, see Genesis 3, which features a stunning example of God cutting Himself off mid-sentence) then the pre-existing condition of the world is: cursed. crap is gonna hit the fan at some point or another. it will unravel.
consider a couple of times in Hosea, when God is doling out “judgement” on Israel: “you’ve plowed iniquity, and reaped injustice…war shall arise among your people, all your fortresses will be destroyed” but sandwiched right in between those two sentences is this: because you have trusted in your own way. (see: Hosea 10:13-14) You made the calls you thought best. this is what happens as a result of those choices you made.
these are the consequences.
then, in the very next chapter, He tells them that they won’t come back to Egypt, Assyria will be their king, the sword will rage against their cities and devour them because of their own counsels (see: Hosea 11:5-6) and then God says: these people are (hell-) bent on turning away from me, and though they call out to the Most High, He shall not raise them up.
He’ll sit in the car and watch the accident happen. cruel, or consistent?
consistent with a God who made us with the capacity to choose. consistent when you consider that every breath is a mercy – that we were created by God for Him and spend such a small fraction of our time glorifying Him.
it’d be cruel if we were owed anything.
but we’re not.
don’t deceive yourself.
this is the way the world works. ideas have consequences, a book once said, but actions do, too – perhaps even more so. when person X does thing A, then thing B happens. sometimes thing B happens to person Y. that’s just true. when you have sex with someone, you might have a baby. that’s just true. when you drink too much, you might do or say something dumb that could very well carry some repercussions. when you steal, you might get caught, and it might follow you forever. you might have something on your record that takes a while to get expunged. if you get angry and destroy someone’s property, you’ll probably have to pay for it. if you abuse drugs, there may be physical consequences you have to live with for the rest of your life. that’s just true.
but/so here’s what’s cool. while God may not – within the confines of His righteousness (which is preeeeeetty broad still – be able to do away with the physical consequences of the stuff you’ve done, He sure can take care of the spiritual ones. He can (and is willing and eager to) call you Son so your name isn’t orphan anymore. He can give you shelter so you’re no longer lost. He can change the things you want. He can break chains. He can break addictions. He can change your impulses and the very way you think. He can. He will! He can put a little bit (or a whole lot) of heaven in you so that you AND the world can see it, and while there may be parts of your body that are perishing (as Paul writes) your inner man can be growing, renewing, thriving, and always pointing – pointing toward a new and living way, a reality that is now and is yet to come, the reality of the world that will one day be and that we get to glimpse in the here and now: a renewed world, where the curse of sin is broken forever. where work is not cursed, where tempers are not lost, where minds are not tangled and lost in a mess of jealousy, confusion, greed, and distraction. where we live – forever – with the God who made us, without the sin that destroys.
that’s the cool part.