Either you are a rules person or you are not. I am. How do I know this? My daughter unearthed this truth among some personal artifacts found in our storage room. One box contained items we retrieved after my mother’s death. She had saved a drawing I made in Kindergarten of a boy riding his bike through a stop sign. I was apparently scandalized enough at that age that someone would break the rules that I made a record of it. I wonder what a psychiatrist would say about that? He likely would say I am somewhat predictable, and likely not too much trouble to deal with.
So yes, I am a rules person and it is an easy admission. Moreover, I am willing to bet most people are rules-oriented. Why? Take a look around at any best sellers list, the books people are drawn to. Among the titles you will see a myriad of variations on a theme: The Seven Rules of… The Three Rules of, the Twelve Rules of, The Four Principles of, The Laws of…. You get my drift. You likely have bought one of those books because you wanted to simplify your life. In short, rules are things we do not have to think about and re-arbitrate. They follow the pattern of things already established. We see them unfold in life, and come to some unbending conclusions.
Consider this: you wake up this morning, and everything you encounter has to be reassessed as to what it is, what it will do, and what it means… it would be exhausting. You would break down after one day because you would be obliged to think over EVERYTHING all the time. No moment of rest would be possible. Fortunately, rules allow you to NOT have to reinvent the wheel. You can tuck those things away because you already have a picture of basic reality in your mind. you KNOW how things act and react without having to figure it all out.
My own three girls tell me stories about their friends dating; how they see men, how men mess up, how dissatisfied they are with the current culture where men no longer want to woo woman. I tell them they are quoting from that dating book entitled “THE RULES” by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider, originally published in 1995. We have moved on and many more books have been written, but apparently those rules are somewhat universal to gender. Here are a few rules from that book, as advice for young women dating. Don’t ask him out on a date, don’t split the cheque on a restaurant meal, don’t call him before he calls you, always be the one to end the date first, don’t open up too fast, etc etc. You were nodding. See what I mean? Basically my daughters are unwittingly quoting rules from a book they have not read, because those rules have long been written into the code of human conduct.
There are people who died over what were considered to be unbreakable rules. Sir Thomas More, was martyred under King Henry VIII when he did not fall in with the idea of the king becoming head of the church in order to facilitate his fast and frequent divorces. There is a famous exchange in the play “A Man For All Seasons” between Thomas and his son-in-law Roper who was a lawyer. It is where we get the term “Devil’s Advocate”, for people who would be willing to defend the Devil himself. Roper was willing. He thought rules kept everybody safe, and you could beat the Devil at his own game because even the Devil is subject to the same laws he insists everyone else keep.
Of course, the Bible is the rule book for Christians. There is the Ten Commandments as revelation given to the Jews, as cornerstone of the Old Covenant as recorded in the Old Testament. There is also that thing Roman Catholics call natural law, appealing to Jeremiah 31:33 where God promises a new covenant. “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.” Those laws are natural because no one has to tell us to obey them. Those laws are written on the human heart.
When it comes to rules, we are living in strange times. The unwind of the Trump presidency, was the widespread observation that truth had taken a beating. People were aggrieved that he could casually deny statements that were on public record. This tactic even has a name: gaslighting. It means that you mess with people’s heads by denying the truth and therefore removing the bedrock of your opponent’s arguments. If you cannot appeal to basic reality, what can you appeal to? Who then makes the rules? Welcome to anarchy. It is at our doorsteps, and ignoring the rules is to blame.
Should we be disturbed by this? Yes and no. I am confident myself that basic reality will always win the day. You can only lie for so long before you begin to look ridiculous. Life follows certain rules. Perhaps you have to live long enough to see that. Getting older and reading through the book of Proverbs, (wisdom for living, and yes, rules) will have you nodding your head and saying uh-huh.
For Christians, we don’t have rules, we have promises which is something much better. In theological terms, we call this a new covenant, a new deal. Will God break his own rules? This is interesting because a covenant establishes something better than the rules, a relationship that is entirely on purpose, because of a decision to love no matter what. Think marriage if you cannot wrap your head around the idea of a covenant.
It also brings in that old motif of Blood in the Bible. Why is blood binding? Because basic life and relationship spring from blood. We understand the finality of blood. The spilling of it means the end of something, and the beginning of something new. A will for example, only comes into effect once someone has died. Blood oaths are binding in law because few people would willingly do harm to themselves.
The original covenant where God makes promises to Abraham is found in Genesis 15:1–15. Abraham sees a vision from God. God commands Abraham to prepare an animal sacrifice, as an image of peril. No one will willingly put himself at peril, unless he is swearing an oath. A blood oath demands that you will meet the same fate as the dead animal if you break your word. Accordingly, Abraham prepares the dismembered parts of an animal, and a vision of God as a flaming torch walks through this image of peril. His blood oath via sacrifice shows that he is serious. Of course, we know this to be typology - an image of the New Testament, written in the stories of the Old. God established a new covenant, when he put himself in peril in the form of his son, Jesus on the Cross. It is an ancient image of why God’s promises are serious, lasting, and not subject to change.
The good news of the Gospel is that God didn’t want mankind to be subject to the rules, so he sacrificed himself in order to establish a new rule. We are no longer bound by law, but by grace because Jesus saves us from the rules. We can rely on God’s own promise that he will redeem the world, because God is the original rule breaker. Now that is some heady theology, and good news for rebels and sinners, world-over.
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