I’ve embarked on a 90-day Bible reading plan this summer. If I keep up with it, I’ll have gone through the Bible by the 2nd week of Fall term! The plan I’m using goes chronologically, which, as you would know if you’ve tried to do this, can be difficult, since for a while, you’re stuck reading what is basically like a law manual, and then census reports.
It’s difficult, reading all these things from today’s perspective, to figure out what I should be gleaning from the reading. The laws are so detailed, the punishments so severe… Coming from the age of grace, they just seem crazy. Reading them, I can understand why so many people today think of the God of the Bible as anything but good — one who enslaves, puts a price on human life, kills easily, gets enraged quickly, and, really, is something of a diva. And I’ll be the first to admit I don’t understand it all. When God commands His people to kill an entire village and plunder it, to stone someone who was caught in sin, to take slaves… I don’t get it. It’s possible I never will. These were customs and regulations from a different time and place – one that I will never see.
But still, what I must remember is that the God I have experienced and come to know is a good God. And even though I don’t understand these things, I am willing to believe that they make sense up in heaven, and that they don’t negate His goodness, mercy and love. I think about the plumbline in Amos 7 and try to think of these rules as life-giving, freedom-giving. God was showing His people the way to honour Him so they wouldn’t have to figure it out on their own. He’s not an unreasonable God who expects people to honour Him but doesn’t tell them how to do that and then punishes them when they don’t. He clearly gives instructions, and the responsibility was on His people to obey. It still is today. I believe His heart was always for His people, both then and now – to protect them, to free them, to help them be their best.
I wonder what it was like to live back then, to live under such a strict set of restrictions. Not being able to touch this or that, only being able to eat certain foods, cooked in a certain way… Apart from trying to see them as being there for our freedom, so that we might walk blameless, rather than be enslaved to a life of always trying to please God but failing, I think another ‘advantage’ is that the people would have had a greater fear of God and hatred for sin. We take grace for granted in many ways, today. We often don’t see immediate consequences for our sin – at least not the kind we see in the Old Testament. Thanks be to God that we don’t drop dead when we enter His house impure. Part of the reason for that, I think, is that we have come to see freedom as a lack of restrictions. We think that without them, we can do whatever we want. And it’s true – we can. But it always comes with a price.
It’s easy to forget the reality of God when we think we’re free to do our own thing. Rules get put in place to remind us that there Is an authority. And as one who has chosen to place my life under that authority, it’s best I remember that.
It’s cheesy and clichéd, perhaps, but I do believe we need to learn to see rules not as restrictions, but as liberty. I love the way John Piper puts it here. We might be ‘free’ to do what we want when there are no rules, but oftentimes – dare I say all the time – we are walking the path to destruction. And if our supposed ‘freedom’ leads us to destruction, are we truly free? The rules God gives us are there to give us life, to keep us from eternal destruction and damnation. The rules we need to break are the ones put in place by the world. We are called to not conform to the ways of this world (Romans 12:2). Jesus was a rebel. So all you free-spirited 21st century kids of my generation, we don’t have to worry about becoming sticklers for the rules because we follow Jesus. We’ve just got to make sure we know which rules are for breaking, and which for keeping. In fact, keeping one set requires that we break the other. Let’s get it right. Break the (world’s) rulez, yo.