Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Moving in Opposite Directions

“Rules are made to be broken” the old saying goes. Well, no, they aren’t, they are made to be followed, but there is just something within us that wants to break them.  Unless we are the rule-makers,  of course.  But most of the rules we are forced to follow we do so reluctantly, usually under the threat of some consequence we wish to avoid.  The doctor tells us to stop eating greasy food, but we can’t give up a juicy hamburger and some fries.  The sign says that the speed limit is 55, and we automatically calculate how much over the speed limit we can go and not get pulled over.  Is it five mph?  Seven?  Ten?
Here’s another old saying that relates: “Christianity isn’t about rules, it’s about a relationship.”  Well, OK, it is about a relationship with God through Jesus.  But it’s about rules as well.  Jesus didn’t throw the Ten Commandments out, did he?  No, he didn’t.  The main reason we don’t still follow the rules and laws found in Exodus and Leviticus is not because they were bad rules and laws but because they don’t culturally fit anymore.  We know how to cook pork and shellfish now so that they are safe to eat, we no longer need rules for the just treatment of bond-servants and slaves, and we certainly don’t need the rules regarding sacrifices at the Temple.  But the spirit of the laws, what they were trying to address—the proper worship of God and the just treatment of the weaker members of society—are still very much needed.
Some Christians like to claim that the purpose of the OT Law was to show us how we can’t save ourselves through legalism and awaken us to the need for a Savior who will save us by grace, but that’s a straw man.  While it’s true that we aren’t saved through legalism but through grace, that was never the purpose of the Law.  It was, once again, to teach us the proper worship of God and the just treatment of the weaker members of society, and if you look past the particulars of the different laws and look for what they were trying to address and accomplish with the laws, you’ll be able to see that.
But the rules are there, and some, like the Ten Commandments (of which the rest of the laws were further explications), transcend time and culture.  Jesus not only expects us to keep them, he goes farther than anyone else ever did.  “But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, 'You fool,' you will be liable to the hell of fire.”
What’s interesting is that we always go in the opposite direction of Jesus with rules.  Instead of intensifying the rule, we look for exceptions.  “But if someone is breaking into your house with a gun, you are allowed to kill him, right?”  “The Hebrew word really means ‘murder’; it’s OK to kill someone if it will prevent further killing, like killing terrorists.”  And all that sounds perfectly reasonable—except, as I’ve said, it’s moving in the opposite direction of Jesus with regard to the law.  While we’re looking for exceptions to the law, trying to make it say less than it does, Jesus is making it say more than it does.  Jesus is pointing out that killing another person begins with an insult, a cursing, a fire of anger over a real or perceived injustice.  Killing is not just a brute external act; it is, in its more common form, a subtle internal thing.  All of us break the fifth commandment in countless ways.  Paranoia, false suspicion, harsh judgment, cynicism, and negativity, whether in word or attitude, also killIn our criticism of others we kill their enthusiasm; with our suspicions we kill trust; with our cynicism we kill the capacity of the community to build; in our broken commitments we kill relationships; in our infidelities we kill the bond that makes for family; and in our constant habit of first depreciating before appreciating, we kill the very goodness with which God surrounded creation, we kill the original blessing of God.
      The commandments are there to give us life.  In seeking exceptions to the them, we’re inadvertently seeking  exceptions to life to make room for death.

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