God Never Said That

October 15, 2012

Last week, we kicked off a series of guest blogs.pic-adam-and-eve-overdressed

We heard from Sonny Lemmons, a stay at home dad.

Then we heard from Addie Zierman, and her reflections on trying to find God’s calling at a Christian college.

And I think I see a theme emerging in my head.

See, we have these rules.  Sometimes we call them roles.  They are the checklists that we are supposed to fulfill, the constraints we are supposed to abide by in order to be fulfilled, happy, dare I say righteous Christian men and women.

But the more I study the prescribed roles we place on ourselves, the ones that say that a man is a failure if he stays home with his child, or that a woman would be disobeying the Bible if she answered the Holy Spirit’s calling to preach, the more I find myself asking one simple question:

Who told us that?

Answering that question may help us figure out who is really qualified to preach, or to raise children.

Teachers Are Not Always Right

I always believed my teachers.  Everything they said, I took as gospel truth.

My mom was a teacher too, so that just elevated all teachers and everything they said to the status of ex cathedra.

Until about third grade.  A friend and I were discussing something that third grade boys are interested in, and his opinion differed from what I had been taught in school.  He told me very bluntly, “Teachers don’t know everything, you know.”

“Yes they do,” I responded.

I was shocked that such an accusation could be leveled.  I was hurt because he was insulting my own mother (and his own mother, because she was a teacher too.)

But I gradually learned that my friend was right, that I could usually trust my teachers, but I should always test what they told me, because they were just human.

And that little awakening prepped me to step out of my introverted shell and defy my eighth grade science teacher who was filling our public school brains with evolution (posed as a fact.) I insisted she acknowledge she was teaching us a theory, because I was a moderately good evangelical child.

Who Told You That You Were Naked?

In the story of Genesis, Adam and Eve eat that tasty, tasty sin-fruit, and things spin out of control.  They realize they are naked, make some clothes, and hide from God when they hear Him coming.

And when God asks what they are doing, Adam answers that they were afraid because they were naked.

And what does God say?  In some weird Bible translation, maybe God says, “Yes, your nakedness stirs me to anger and wrath! Now cover yourselves and go away, for my holy eyes cannot look upon your human breasts and penises!”

God doesn’t say that.  The first sentence out of God’s mouth is:

“Who told you that you were naked?”

Adam and Eve assumed what God would say to them.  They assumed they now required clothing.  God never accused them or convicted them or told them to get dressed.  They did that all on their own, and they never asked what God actually required them to do. (God did them a favor by providing clothes, but still never told them they had to stay dressed or that Eve’s skirt had to be two inches past her fingers.)

Did God Really Tell You?

There are multitudes of rules, roles, and constructs that we try to fit ourselves into.  We contort ourselves to try to please God.

Maybe the first question we should be asking is who told us this is what God wants?  Does the Bible really say that?  Is it telling us what to do, or just telling us what happened?

After all, the Pharisees assumed that hundreds more rules had to be added to the law.  But Jesus was kind of a minimalist when it came to rules.  He summed up the entire law with love.  

Modern Bible readers have a real knack for turning every sentence in the Bible into a law.  We put the Pharisees to shame, I’m afraid.  But before men decide they have to check off this list, or women check off that list, they really should be asking “who told me to do this?”

If we ask that question first, when it comes to our rules and regulations, we may just find ourselves becoming minimalists…like Jesus.

What do you say?  Are we just prone to creating more rules than we need?  Do people need rules?  Or do people thrive more without too many rules?

22 responses to God Never Said That

  1. We love our rules. God keeps letting us mess up our lives so we learn to depend on Him, but often we prefer our rules in a futile attempt to make our lives tidy.

    Then again, without rules how can we engage in the annual, “how dare you observe Halloween / Christmas” debates?

  2. Sinful creatures need rules. And we’ll break them, so we’ll need more, and more…and more.

    In Christ, though, we are free. No law but love. It’s a paradox. We’re stuck with it as long as we are breathing and taking in nourishment.

  3. Hold on–next you’re going to be telling us that there isn’t anything in the Bible about voting Republican, homeschooling our kids, sticking fish on our cars, or any of those other things that get Christians all pink-faced. How am I supposed to know what to feel morally superior about now? 😉

  4. Rules make things easy. When we know for sure where the line is, then we know exactly where we stand (and it makes it easier to judge other people too). It’s all black and white. Gray is the hard part. Gray is where we have differing opinions and where we need to make a judgement call based on whatever we feel like basing things on. And other people might not like our justifications or our conclusions.

    Right/wrong, black/white….it’s simpler. So people make “rules” to make things easier.

  5. OK–you drove me into my Bible. Well done.
    And, actually, the first thing God said was “Where are you?” But that’s not really material.
    The question you ask is.
    Men evidently need some rules. God gave us the ten big ones, after all. But then He did say that the greatest was love. Love. Just love.
    ” They did that all on their own, and they never asked what God actually required them to do.”
    We make rules for ourselves based on the sin we discover in ourselves. And I don’t know about you, but I need some rules. The problem is when we push those rules on someone else, someone who doesn’t need them, someone who we prevent from finding what their own rules ought to be,

    • Well, you caught me! :)

      But you make a good point, and I think this is what you are saying. If we make loving God and our neighbors our highest priority, everything else will follow. If we do not, it creates the need for a bunch of lesser rules.

    • Hi… I like the question… “Where are you?” Maybe God wanted to jolt their heads… I can’t imagine He didn’t know where they were. I think they didn’t know where they were. Suddenly He made them aware of how lost they were. He wants relationship with us and we need relationship with Him. They had forgotten HIM for all their interest in something new and different and suddenly they were only occupied with themselves. The rules help us to know the way to our Creater. If our hearts though are trying to hear HIs voice, I don’t think the rules will be that important any more. Suddenly they even can be broken (like David eating food from the Temple) and it’s all ok. It’s actually only all about HIM and not the rules.

  6. Love! Yea, love! Un-oh. Doesn’t that mean we put others first. Now, just wait a minute! Seriously, if we practiced this inside our churches…just think of the possibilities. There’s a book called Crazy Love (Francis Chan) that has much to say. Several families left my church over that book. Hmmm…

  7. Rules create a sense of security when we don’t really trust ourselves with the freedom we’ve been given.

  8. Funny, we’ve added to God’s words since that very story in Genesis. God only said not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

    but when the serpent questioned eve, he raised doubt in her mind by exaggerating the original command. he made it sound so much worse than it was, suggesting that God commanded them not to eat of ANY tree in the garden.

    and even eve added to the Lord’s words, saying they couldn’t even touch the tree or they would die.

    we’ve been adding to God’s words since the beginning and where God’s rules seem to bring life to us, our man-made additions seem to bring about only death.

  9. If we have a list of rules, we don’t need to actually have a relationship with God; we don’t need to listen to the Holy Spirit. It reminds me of the Israelites who didn’t want to talk directly to God–they wanted Moses to go talk to Him for them. And as a result, they missed out.

  10. This is great & immediately reminded me of this great song off of Derek Webb’s Mockingbird album called “A New Law”… Good stuff!

  11. Matt, I don’t always agree with you, but appreciate your candid approach and digging passed the surface. You make me think and that’s a good thing. Thank you.

    I grew up in a strict house with 2 military-trained parents. My mom was an expert marks(wo)man with an M-16 machine gun. No joke.

    I’m used to rules, but I’m not always a big fan of them. Like you I was a pretty good evangelical kid so I would argue with people about evolution and stuff, but I was taught never to question authority.

    I still have a hard time with it and especially in how I parent my kids and co-lead our family. I want my kids to respect their elders while encouraging them to always ask deeper questions.

    Great stuff, Matt. Thank you for cooking my noodle again.

  12. I think rules have their place because God gave us rules in the form of the Ten Commandments. However, according to Romans 3 (somewhere), God’s purpose for these rules is to help Him make us aware of our sin, not to justify our actions before Him. The problem is that when we forget this fact and try to use rules to make us “humanly perfect”, we take those ten rules and multiply them, just like the Pharisees did, to figure out how much we can stretch the rules without actually breaking them. Thanks for challenging us to check our Bibles!

    We have added rules that make us “responsible” for other people’s decisions (side hugs, modest dressing to discourage “adultery” or adulterous thoughts in our Christian brother or sister). We use those extra rules to bludgeon each other, or ourselves into submission rather than encouraging each other to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith and let him rule our actions and judge our hearts. The end result is, apart from our beliefs in what the afterlife entails, we don’t look that different from Mormons or Jews or Muslims in the eyes of the world. I am just as guilty of this as the next Christian and God keeps having to whack me upside the head with His heavenly 2×4 to get me to stop, which, by the way, hurts so good.

    And we can see this in what is happening in our government at all levels, regardless of party affiliation: rules are multiplying as people are trying to use rules to make us a moral society whereas in the past, more people let God lead them to do the right thing. As a result, we have crimes called “ponzi schemes,” internet fraud/scams or even “fraudulent accounting practices” when in reality, everything mentioned above is stealing and should be punished accordingly. Slander, misrepresentation of or withholding of evidence and “fraudulent accounting practices” should be prosecuted as lying.

    Forgive my rant. I blame it on the political ads and posturing of this current season.

  13. i’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we focus on rules over decision-making, discernment, or cultivating a christian worldview or Kingdom lens through which to engage the world. rules are easier in some ways, but we get stuck and stagnate there.

    a big goal of parenting is to raise capable adults. children gain independence as they grow, and as christians, we too ought to grow in freedom.

    i love the idea of exploring this more.

  14. Definitely agree with this- and in some ways it’s easier to follow rules, because then everything is easily-defined, and you do all the rules and then you don’t have to worry about it any more. In reality, we have to love God and love people, which is not something you can just check off and be done with.

    Also I can relate to your story of thinking teachers were always right- I used to think whatever I read in Christian books was automatically true. (Here’s my blog post about it: I was wrong about being right.)

  15. Matt you drop theological bombs! Awesome stuff. Of course we need some rules because we’re so awful. Lord of the Flies and all that.

    From day one, we’re conditioned to follow rules and are rewarded/punished based on how well we fall in line, yet the Gospel is contrary to this powerful instinct. Like you said above we are unable or unwilling to humble ourselves and embrace mystery, so we end up being box and list people to accommodate our way of thinking. Finding the balance between having enough rules to keep the peace and not being crushed under the law is the trick I suppose — if you find it let me know.

  16. justapeekartwork October 16, 2012 at 10:46 am

    Jesus didn’t throw the baby out with the baptismal water by the way. He did have a few things to say about ruiles too. He talked aboutright and wrongs in marraige, divorvce, adultery, greediness, judging, etc., and laid some ideas about the do’s and don’ts regarding those things. Yes, I do believe He talked a great deal about LOVE above all else, clothe it in LOVE, finish it with LOVE, start it with LOVE, and talked about about belief and lack of belief. He talked about Faith and walking and standing, and forgiveness.
    Legality deals with outward actions or words, while grace deals with inward attitudes and motives of the heart. It is possible for man to obey the law outwardly but disobey it inwardly. A man could stand with a brick in his hand in front of a plate glass window with his heart hot with hatred and with a great surging desire to throw that brick through the window. As long as he does not throw it, the law is totally unconcerned how he feels. As long as he controls his actions, the law does not care what his heart feels like. But grace does!
    Grace is vitally concerned with the heart. Grace wants that heart to be filled with love and benevolence, instead of hatred and bitterness, and so its control is from within. Law deals with the surface; grace with the center. Law appeals to fear, fear of a penalty; grace appeals to grateful love. Law prescribes what one ought to do; grace creates a “want to” within.

    Perhaps the misunderstanding that is most prevalent today is that grace really means no control at all.Many feel that grace is so opposed to Law that it never involves any commands or rules of any kind. I read somewhere recently that wherever you find commandments in the Bible, that is law, and, if you live by grace, you cannot have any laws or rules of any kind. You sometimes hear people say, “I’m under grace, I don’t need any rules in my life.” And if you refer to some rule they rebel, and say, “That’s not for me. I’m under grace; I’m not subject to any rules.”
    Now the Bible indicates plainly that grace has its rules as well. Grace gives commands:to list a few;( John 15:12; Ephesians 5:18; Romans13:6-7, etc etc etc) The standards of grace are concerned with those inward attitudes that create the outward act. A little wordy, but eh, call me a sinner! LOL