“Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts.”
When my children stepped into adolescence, we experienced the fears that come with that stage of parenting.
Fears? Why fears? Because up until then, the decisions they made were relatively safe. They may break a leg or get sick once they moved into young adulthood, they could choose things that would lead to drug addiction, pregnancy, or a serious car accident.
We knew that they were stepping into a world that was filled with dangers. And that they had little idea how great and hidden were those snares.
Were rules the solution?
In the face of fears, some parents tighten down with rules. We created curfews. Permissions were given only after we got the full itinerary including who might be with them on their activity. These rules were like road signs, attempting to give speed limits and promote safety.
We battled fears. Older folks, who had graduated from the season of overseeing adolescents, were philosophical. “There is not much you can do to stop them from mistakes,” they mused. This was hardly helpful. Others encouraged us to let them learn by hard experience. That was horrifying.
After some trial and error, we reflected on our actions. It was then that we realized that there was something more foundational than rules and controls to guiding our children into adulthood. That something was trust — being worthy of trust and asking them to trust.
Have you ever tried to reason with a 16 year old about the dangers they face? As a mature adult, you can see the pitfalls around them. Why can you see them? because of experience. Like it or not, you cannot make a teenager function with the sensibilities of a mature adult. What you see as a risk, they see as innocuous. How can you bridge that difference?
They need to trust you — to know by experience that you are seeking their good, that you are willing for them to grow by trial and error, and that you also know more about the road ahead than they do. It does not matter if they cannot see the snares; what they need to do it trust you to know and to guide. This is what is behind the book of Proverbs in the Old Testament. Much of the book is an appeal of parents to the naive youth to trust them.
It is not and it is
Of course, parents can be overly protective. Many parents simply want to lock up their child until they are adults and then release them. Of course, untested virtue is not virtue at all. Locking them up will fail. But even with flawed parents, the issue is simply trust.
What we did
With each of our children, or maybe all at once, and repeatedly, we had a conversation. This is the gist of what we said: You are coming into a few years when you are making adult choices. That is the next phase of your growth. We are excited for it. You will also face dangers you do not fully understand. We want you to walk through this time, growing in maturity, making choices, but without experiencing those dangers. If you will trust us, we can help you navigate this path to greater maturity without bringing lasting harm to yourself or others.
What does that have to do with a series of posts on laws and morals?
I ended the last post by suggesting that consensus moral codes may be the best we can do in a society that rejects fixed and absolute laws, but it leaves us in great uncertainty. Either we end up with constant change or someone decides to use power to coerce us all to conform to their code.
The alternative is fixed laws that apply to all people in all places and all time. But what you may not know is that the foundation of those fixed laws is the trustworthiness of the lawgiver. How we respond to those rules is always a matter of trust.
Trust is everywhere
This is about more than religion.
When I had my annual physical a few weeks ago, my MD gave me some directions on further tests and actions to take for my health. I received those well because I trust her training and her character.
My financial advisor has helped me for years. She is paid to be objective, to be skilled, and to be honest.
What about plumbers? electricians? the company that repaired my roof? I employ them because I trust them. I trust them because of their character and their skill. There are vendors I do not use because I do not trust them.
So it is with God and his laws
The foundation of transcendent morals is God’s trustworthiness.
If you have ever read the ten commandments, you find they begin with God and what he is like. Why begin there? because the laws are only honored when we trust the one who gives them.
God had stepped into history, delivered his people from cruel slavery, and brought then into freedom. That freedom was defined by a relationship with him. Now God was defining what he was like. A relationship with him, living according to his laws, was freedom because of the kind of God he is.
What is the true God like?
Let’s start here: God does not kiss up to us so we like him. The issue is never whether we like him or what we think of him. It is always what he thinks of us.
Here are some basics:
- He is infinite in being. That means there are no limits to his knowledge or wisdom.
- He is holy and righteous. That means he knows perfectly what is just and right and he always does it.
- He is pure goodness. That means that everything he commands is entirely for our good. He would never withhold good or lead us into a path of harm.
Put those three together and you have a God who would only tell us to do what is right, what is for our good, and what is based on knowing all the circumstances.
Let me put it like this: when God gave the ten commandments, he considered every circumstance we would ever face, evaluated with perfect wisdom what was for our good in each, and summarized his conclusions in the command. The law of God, according to Jesus, is the perfect expression of love for God and love for others.
There is no possibility that he will run into an exception.
That’s why people try to make the Bible a human book
If what I am saying is the truth, the only logical thing to do is trust. But trust is the last thing we will do.
That is why there has been a massive effort on the part of most of us to dismiss what the Bible says by insisting it is entirely cultural, or just one man’s perspective. If the Bible is merely a book of human insight, given as best they could in their time, we can respect it — but we certainly do not have to follow it.
If you follow the thinking of people who attack the Bible, you may note that they are pretty selective. No one questions the command to love our neighbor, or the evil of violence against others — but restricting sex and marriage and calling us to contentment with what we have, that is asking a bit much.
The Bible does not give us the “pick your favorites” option. Jesus does not give us that as one of the choices in the multiple choice exam.
Rather, the Bible tells us what God is alike and asks us to trust him.
Here is how I put this:
If you could have the same knowledge and the same perfect character as God, you would reach the same conclusions.
God knows what he is calling us to do
What I have found over the years is that the laws of God work and breaking them doesn’t.
Here is a simple exercise: imagine that for the next year everyone in your city or town told the truth and only the truth. Imagine everyone kept their promises. Think of every citizen being generous and not greedy, employers paying a living wage, judges executing the law without bias. Consider a community where there is no violence toward others and no theft. And reflect on what it would be like if both the father and the mother of a child took responsibility to provide for them and raise them.
I would want to live in that community, wouldn’t you? All I am doing is describing a community that lives out the ten commandments. God seems to know what he is talking about.
We are all in denial
Why on earth do we resist living by the rules that we wish everyone else lived by?
The answer is painful: we are addicts to our own desires. We trust ourselves more than the wisest of our race, let alone God. And we certainly do not trust God.
So, next we will explore the root of our suspicion toward God. Then we will dig into each of the commandments to see exactly what it says and why it is for our good.