I have a thing about “rules.” Like most individualistic Americans, I’m not a huge fan of them. But like most Good Christian Women, I’m really good at following them.
Like that time they were doing road construction in West Duluth. My husband and I lived, worked, and worshipped in that neighborhood for several years. It’s fair to say I know my way around. But it wasn’t until I had dutifully followed the detour signs halfway around town, wasting fifteen minutes and way too much gas, that I began to wonder why I hadn’t just zipped onto the backroads and driven directly to my destination.
I was unthinkingly following “the rules,” putting policy before good sense.
Now, every society needs rules to function. When God established the people of Israel, he gave them rules and regulations to guide them–not because the rules themselves were intrinsically important (some were, some weren’t), but because Hebrew society needed a framework to run on, something that made sense in their culture. The rules weren’t always what God would have preferred (see Jesus’ comment in Matthew 19:8 about Moses allowing divorce because men’s hearts are hard), but they did stave off anarchy. God graciously met their society where it was at and gave people what they needed to function.
So I’m not talking smack about rules. But as a person who has sometimes mistaken her own personal or cultural “rules” for faithful Christianity, I am grateful when I’m challenged to look beyond them, and into God’s heart for people.
That usually happens when I listen to other people’s stories. When I listen hard, without getting defensive, whipping out prooftexts, or offering advice.
I am not always good at this.
I am afraid that at times, my “zeal for the Law” and desire for simple, uncomplicated answers has caused me to act like the rules themselves are more important than the human beings they were created for. I have been guilty of refusing to hear what people were trying to tell me about their lives (while pretending to listen, of course), because I didn’t want to deal with the implications of what they were saying.
Their problems were too big for my prooftexts.
But they weren’t too big for God. Or even the Bible, I have discovered.
I don’t think it’s any mistake that the Bible is full of stories–stories of brokenness and healing, stories of victory and failure. Stories of how God moved in the midst of colossal messes.
Stories that aren’t so different from the ones I hear on a daily basis.
When faced with sticky issues, we evangelicals are inordinately fond of whipping out our concordances and plucking proof-texts out of the Epistles. But what if we spent a more time sitting with the stories, mulling over the messes even godly people found themselves in, and looking at the ways God has worked in the past?
What if we prayed for wisdom to understand the principles God is trying to teach us throughout the entire, inspired scriptures, instead of relying so heavily on proof texts?
Like Jesus, we might wind up breaking some “rules.” But when we put God’s heart ahead of religious rules, we might also become a conduit for releasing God’s healing into crippled lives. It might even happen on the Sabbath.
How about you?
Have you ever offered a hurting person your interpretation of the “law,” when what they really needed was a listening ear?
Has anyone ever done that to you?
How can we do better?