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Monday, January 31, 2011

God's love, our response: rule of life

We have heard something like this: "As a rule I do not pick up hitchhikers" or "As a rule I eat my vegetables first." "As a rule..." A rule, in this sense, is a guiding set of principles and behaviors which keep us on the road. A rule of life keeps us "on The Way."

When I was young, there was a new emphasis in theology which has driven spirituality ever since. It can be summed up in the words, "God loves us, unconditionally." When I was a child, my mother used to tell me how lucky I was. "When I grew up, " she said, more than once, "God was a judge, now He loves us." The contrast between a loving father and a harsh judge is pretty severe. Depending upon your emphasis, one lives in a world guided by a Hand of understanding, kindness and mercy under the watchful Eye of a loving Father---OR--- one toils away in fear, terrorized that any misstep, no matter how slight, will invite divine visitation of wrath and punishment, with the threat of eternal damnation hanging over one's head. This is sometimes expressed as "the God of the New Testament" versus "the God of the Old Testament."

Obviously, the Scriptures make it crystal clear that God is both Loving Father and Just Judge. There is really no confilct between the New Testament God and the Old Testament God for Jesus. In the early church, those who contrasted the two were condemed as heretics. Their teaching rejected as false.

Too many in the contemporary church seem to advocate that God's love is so unconditional that it does not matter what we do, He will always love us. This is true, in a sense, but without further explanation it is also problematic. Such a premise logically leads to some dangerous results.
  • If God does not care what I do, then what I do does not matter.
  • If what I do does not matter, then there really is no difference between one act and another, except whether or not it pleases me.
  • Therefore, I will do what I want.
A "rule of life" can  be a simple pattern of living based on "what pleases me." In fact, that is exactly what the rule of life will spontaneously be for most people, unless if their freedom is limited by some outside forces. (weather, health, government laws, etc.) For the person in relationship with Jesus, the deciding factor for making a rule of life should not be our natural inclinations.  (St. Paul says that we are by nature children of wrath.) Our rule of life is derived from our identity and mission as Christians. Because The Father loves us, what we do is vitally important.

As I review my life I remember a number of people whom I have loved with incredible passion. Most of those people have ended up moving on. I know what could have been between us. I know what remains, a deep and abiding love. I also know what was lost, years of shared experiences and the growth of a deeper, more committed love. Love remains even if the relationship is tangential. But there is a sense in which that love has been frustrated by separation. It is my belief that God views us the same way. He loves us with a passionate, life-giving love. But He also lets us walk away. He allows us to make decisions which undermine the relationship. Love and relationship are organic, they grow or die. That is a summary of the Old Testament. A loving God frustrated by rejection. The Father allows His children to wander away (in the NT it is the prodigal son). He desires relationship, but He does not force it upon them. 

The rule of life is our response to the invitation from the Father to each of us. It is a choice for discipleship in answer to Jesus' call, "Come follow Me!" It is life in the Holy Spirit, abundant life and disciplined/disciple life. So what does a "rule of life" look like for a Christian? What is a rule of life for someone who thinks that because God loves me so much, what I think, say and do are incredibly imporant to Him and directly impacts our relationship?

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