My wife likes to watch TV shows that defy my ability to comprehend. One such show is “Say Yes to the Dress.” On this show, brides-to-be come to a very fancy salon and try on different bridal gowns. There is, of course, tons of drama, tears, fighting, name calling, hair pulling, and utter self-absorption. Great fun.
The other night I had the great fortune to witness an episode. Yay. In this particular episode the bride-to-be was a religious gal, and one member of her entourage was also a religious young lady. The thing about this episode that kept catching my attention was the fact that every time the bride would try on a dress, her friend would criticize it, saying it was too short, too tight, or showed too much cleavage. Her point of reference for these criticisms was the Bible. In other words, she would quote scripture to show how the dress was inappropriate for the bride. She quoted verses about sin, lust, sex, and so on and so forth, saying that the dress was in violation of some biblical rule or other.
For me, therein lies the problem. It was all about the rules. From what I have seen, a lot of people resist God, church, or religion in general for just this reason; the perception is that it’s nothing but rules that will impose on personal freedoms. In fact, my daughter, who has declared herself an atheist, once said to me that ,”The Bible is nothing but a big book of rules. Isn’t it full of, like, the Ten Commandments and stuff?” Like most people, she feels that she is in charge of her life, that she has everything under control, and any kind of religion is not only an imposition on her freedoms, but some kind of admission of weakness, of an inability to control her life.
I’m not sure that I completely understand how a person can complain about ten biblical rules while abiding by thousands of rules (laws) imposed on them by the country in which they reside. For example, one of the Ten Commandments is thou shall not kill. I’m pretty sure that murder is illegal, at least in the United States, as is theft. I guess adultery may not be illegal (not sure about that), but it sure is grounds for divorce. So that leaves what? Respect your father and mother. Do not covet. Keep the Sabbath holy. No other gods. No idols. No taking the name of the Lord in vain, and no bearing false witness. Wait a minute. I think that last one is illegal, too. At least in court. So what you’re really giving up is your freedom to be rude, disrespectful, unholy, an idol worshiper, and trying to keep up with the Jones’.
On the flip side, we have no problem with there being something like 15 laws that we are supposed to abide by every time we get into our car, before we even turn it on. How many laws regulate us when we want to cross the street? How many laws governing the purchase of a home? Or sending a child to public school? Or paying our taxes? I just read that as of 2012, there are 73, 608 pages in the federal tax code. How many in each state?
Yet we accept these laws (for the most part) as a necessary part of our lives. Just imagine the pandemonium that would ensue if there were no laws, we might say to each other. There has to be some kind of regulation in our lives to protect us from ourselves. Why then do we reject what we perceive as God’s laws, which can be seen as being by design a means to make our lives better, not as restrictive?
How about this; don’t worry about the rules. I’m not talking about human laws, by all means please don’t go breaking the law. I’m talking about the “rules” in the Bible. If you read the Bible, what you will find is that the focus is on relationships. God know that we can’t keep rules. He knows that when left to our own devices we will often choose things that just aren’t in our own best interests. That’s why He sent His son; to pay the cost of all the rules-breaking for us. Our slate can be wiped clean. Does this mean we have a free pass to do whatever we want? Of course not. But what it does mean is that we can move past the rules and focus on our relationships with God, with Jesus, and with each other, which is what He wants. After all, He is our Father, and what loving father would choose disciplining and punishing his children over affectionate bonding?
What does this really mean to us in a practical sense? Imagine just not having a desire to “break the rules.” Let’s say you’re a married man who really loves his wife, but before you got married you were a player, a real ladies’ man. Now you’ve met the love of your life, and even though you see gorgeous women around here and there, you simply don’t have a desire to pursue them like you once did. Maybe you think of just your wife, or maybe you think of your children, and how important they are to you, and having a temporary bit of pleasure simply isn’t worth losing the blessings you have. Have you changed? You bet! But what caused that change? Was it just you, or did the presence of the incredible woman you’re married to have an influence on you?
It works the same way with God, I believe, although on an even greater scale. The more time we spend with Him, the more His being influences us. You could say (in fact the Bible does say) that our nature is replaced with His, and since His nature is pure, the more of Him there is in us, the less impure, or self-destructive we become, and none of this is based on rules. Everything that God does is because of His love for us. His love for us is unconditional, all we need do is to seek Him out.
And when you’re tired of living by the rules of culture, chasing money, sex, power, or whatever it is that you pursue and never get enough of, there’s someone waiting for you, no matter who you are or what you’ve done, with a patient, caring love that can truly set you free.