Sunday, March 9, 2014

Rules


“I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.”

Robert Heinlein

“Lovers and warriors are not bound by the rules of fair play.”

Wayne Gerard Trotman, Veterans of the Psychic Wars


“Compass rules direction; Decision rules life!”

Israelmore Ayivor, The Great Hand Book of Quotes



Why is it important that I work towards my goals every day?  Should I do something every day that moves me towards my goals?  Is that healthy?  What about a day of rest?  What does rest mean?  Should I be making the Sabbath holy as it says in the Ten Commandments?   What are the rules?  I think the answers to these questions can be answered by looking at two other questions:
·      What do I want?
·      What does God want?

What I want is to reach my goals.  I want to be happy.  I want to have enough money to put my children and grandchildren through college.  I want to have healthy loving relationships.  I want to read.  I want to serve the world.  I want to be peaceful.  I want to write.  I want to have a healthy relationship with God.
What gets in the way of many of these desires is my legalism.  Legalism says that there is one way, and only one way, to do things.  It also says that there are dire consequences for not following the rules or even the procedures.  The consequences can be social, physical, spiritual, financial, relational or all of the above.  The consequences are often worse than the offense.  In one biblical story a man is stoned to death for collecting firewood on the Sabbath.  But then later, others do far worse and the results are different.  Some offenses are punished, some are forgiven, and some are ignored altogether.  God comes across as an inconsistent parent.  Is He patient and forgiving?  Is He angry and vengeful? For one mistake, God disallows Moses from entering the Promised Land after 80 years of service, but He blesses David’s adulterous and murderous affair with Bathsheba with the birth of a son, Solomon, the wisest and riches man who ever lived.   Does God just get up on the wrong side of bed some mornings?
When it comes to God, all I can do is trust Him when He says, “My ways are not your ways.”
I don’t need to understand God to love Him or trust Him.  I do believe He is looking out for our good.  No, Moses didn’t enter the Promised Land, but 600 years later he stands by the side of Jesus in Israel.  Looking at events within the limitations of time (which is often all we can do) may cloud the issue.  Can I believe in a God who is ultimately just and ultimately forgiving at the same time?  I can and I do.  He cannot be mocked, but He can be incredibly gracious. 
What, then, about the “rules?”
I rarely trust rules.  Perhaps they are necessary.  I can’t imagine a world or any institution or structure without some sort of system of standards.  Again, going back to the Old Testament, God set up not only the Ten Commandments, but also 667 laws regarding work, diet, sex, health and a host of other things.  Very few of those are enforced today.  Many of them are like those humorous old laws that once had a purpose, but no longer do.  For example, it is illegal to mispronounce the word “Arkansas” in that state.  In Georgia, one must carry a loaded rifle to church. http://www.legalsource360.com/index.php/funny-old-laws-that-are-still-on-the-books-1488/
Are there rules I am firm about?  Yes.
I think libraries should be quiet so people can study.
I think respect should be accorded to the elderly.
I think respect should be accorded to everyone.
I think we should all wash our hands more often.
I think we should take better care of ourselves, each other and the planet.
I don’t think anyone should be beaten, raped, molested or murdered.
I think we should love each other and seek the best for each other.

Perhaps rules are required for the less mature.  In my own life I have caused and been caused great pain because I followed a rule.  I later found out a different rule might have been more appropriate, usually the rule of love.  On the other hand, I have blatantly disregarded rules and this bought me peace and joy.  I later found out the rule of love was again more appropriate.
When my daughter was younger, I had more rules for her.  Then one day, when she was about 10 years old I told her I had only two rules for her:  Be respectful to everyone and always do your best.
Does God say anything about rules?   There seems to be a shift in His personality between the Old and the New Testaments.  In the New Testament, St. Paul says, “You are no longer under the law, but under grace.”  This was because of the death of Jesus.  All the offenses were paid for and now there is forgiveness.
Grace is forgiveness when we break the rules.  Grace is loving ourselves and others when we break the rules. 
I think the ultimate rule should be the golden rule, to love others as you would be loved.  I think to love others, love God and love yourself are the best rules.  The problem then is in the interpretation.  In every situation, I am required to pray for wisdom and to think, really think, about how love applies.
What can prevent love?  Looking for approval.  Fear.  The desire for power over another.  Greed.  Selfishness.  If, however, I look for the most loving thing to do in every situation, then I can please God. 
Of course, this is much harder than following rules, because it requires that I think for myself.  This is not an easy process.  Rules are easier because they require only obedience and little or no thought. In addition, I might even make mistakes in trying to love others.  Again, this is where grace comes in.
I’m not condoning absolutism.  Nor am I condoning authoritarianism.  I’m condoning grace, love and the difficult and painful process of independent thought and personal responsibility. 
So do I work today?  Do I move towards my goals?
Yes.  I choose to do so because it is the most loving thing I can do.  Later, taking a nap might be the most loving thing I can do.   Or reading.  Or spending time with people I love.  I won’t say that there are no rules, but perhaps there aren’t as many rules as we think there are.  Perhaps we need maturity and love more than we need rules.  Perhaps we need grace, forgiveness and love more than rules.  Perhaps we need to Get Started and Keep Going…and then we won’t need rules.