October 24, 2011

Rules -- Inhibiting or Enhancing our Freedom?

This post is a copy and paste from a friend's blog.  I am including the link as proper credit to her.  Please feel free to check out her blog.  The message is one that resonates very deeply with me.  Since she did such a wonderful job of expressing it, I asked her permission to use it rather than reiterate it myself.  So... happy reading! :)

My Corner of the Universe: Shoulda Woulda Coulda  (Thank you Jenni!)

Shoulda Woulda Coulda

"Miss, can I please drink the leftover juice?"
"I'm not sure that's such a smart idea.  There's a lot of juice, and it might make you sick."
"It's okay, Miss.  I can handle it."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, Miss."

I can still remember this day.  An 8th grade student, eyes shining bright, was standing at my desk, pleading to drink the juice left over from a class activity. The jar of pickle juice gleamed like swamp water. He thought it was a great idea.  I was unconvinced.  Even though there was no rule forbidding it, and even though I knew he was capable, I still didn't think that pickle juice would make a good "second breakfast."  In the end, I relented. He drank the juice. Later, he ran out of class as his stomach relinquished its hold on the very vinegary solution.

Just because we can do something doesn't mean we always should.  But just because we shouldn't do something doesn't necessarily mean it's wrong.

I look back at that incident and think about all the different ways I could have reacted to it.  I could have told the student no.  I could have poured the pickle juice into the bushes to guarantee that no one else would attempt such a feat. I could have added "No drinking pickle juice" to my list of classroom rules.  Better yet, I could have expanded that rule to include all types of vinegar-based substances or all substances of more than three ounces or anything that started with the letter P.

Often times it seems that we convince ourselves that rules will protect us from everything and that the best solution to a possible difficulty is just a list of rules forbidding an activity or anything associated with it.  If it's not wise to see an R-rated movie, then it would be best not to see any movies at all.  Or to shop in stores that display movie posters. Or to talk about movies.   If being drunk and losing control of one's body, thus endangering oneself and others, is not wise, then it would be best not to drink any alcohol at all. Or anything that might look like alcohol. Or to be anywhere where alcohol is served.

But what do you do when you encounter a situation for which there is no rule yet? Or what if you are around other people who have different rules? Does that mean these other people are ignorant or unspiritual? Should we teach them our rules or do we need to learn theirs? Who's got the best answer?

And therein lies the problem.  Directives clearly laid down by God make perfect sense.  There are logical consequences to breaking those rules, and we can be sure that God has our best in mind. However, once we traipse into the realm of man-made rules, we are sure to find mistakes.  People, however well-intentioned, are prone to error.  We can't even pretend to have God's perspective on things. Circumstances change, cultures change, and often we find that our well-intentioned rules are now a hindrance.  In a religious setting, these rules become a sort of anti-testimony, pushing people away from the One who loves them more than they can understand instead of drawing them to Him.  There are so many people who need to see God's love, and they're not going to if they keep getting hung up in our rules about how we dress, what music we listen to, how many earrings we can wear, and how much money we must give to the church.

I am certain that my student (and his classmates) learned more from discussing the relative merits of drinking pickle juice and watching the consequences thereof than they would have from a hard-and-fast "no drinking juice that starts with P" rule. After all, if he had consumed the same quantity of pear juice or peach juice or even pineapple juice, he probably would have been fine.  Less pickle juice probably would have been fine, too.  Rather than regulating every possible situation, why not allow people to use their brains and Bibles to learn what God wants them to do?  No, people won't always get it right.  Neither will you.  Nor will I. But that's what grace is for.  God gave us the opportunity to choose so we could choose to love and serve Him, and we would do well to give that same opportunity to those around us.

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