We know exactly what it feels like to be obedient. We toe the line. We do exactly what is expected of us. We follow each and every rule, crossing every “t” and dotting every “I” so that we get it exactly right. This is how we as children had to remember to behave, because it was so against our nature to obey every rule, every time. Really, if we’d had our druthers we’d have played and played as hard as we could. We would have been consumed by joy at the experience of doing the things we liked to do most. But…..we had to learn to be obedient to our parents and then to our teachers.
So when we grow up, we still know how to be obedient to the rules of society and to the laws of God. We project onto God the kind of parent we had, hopefully wise and loving, but probably not always so, maybe not at all. We think that God expects of us the same kind of behavior that our parents did, so we do our darnedest to not break any of his commandments. We want to be good followers, good parishioners, good church-goers. So we interpret the Bible and especially God as being demanding of our behavior right down to the last cross of the “t” and dot on the ”i.”
But what if that is not at all what God is like, that it is only how we have been taught to think about him and his laws? What if there were a whole different way of approaching God and his commandments? What if the issue with the laws is not about exacting our perfect behavior, but God asking us to come as close to him as possible into as deep a relationship with him as possible where we wouldn’t think of violating any of his commandments, because we love him so much.
That would be a sea change in our behavior towards God from perfectionistic behavior dotting every “I” and crossing every “t” to being in a loving relationship with him entrusting him with all of ourselves—the good things and not so great things we’ve done or that have been done to us, where we give all of ourselves to him and see nothing but his love and forgiveness of who we are. We would no longer be like children being trained to be perfect followers of his laws, but rather we would be loved into nestling as close as we can to the Source of all Love. And in his arms we could not, would not do anything against him.
God himself says in Deuteronomy 28 that there are good consequences for following his law and bad ones for not following it—blessings and curses in God’s words. God will not rain these consequences on you or thunderbolt them from the sky at you; it is built into the creation of the world that if we follow his laws we will be blessed; if we don’t, we will be cursed.
And there is another thing about following his law out of love for God—it doesn’t feel like obedience at all, that careful attention to every “i” and “t.” It feels like freedom! Is that even possible? Yes, it is the way being obedient feels for a person who is totally nestled in the arms of God trusting him in all things. How is this possible, you may ask?
I think that the freedom comes from the innate goodness that God implanted deep within us; our conscience is a part of that. But when we tap into that innate goodness out of the love of God, we are also feeling his love and forgiveness and transformation into the person we were created to be. So obedience and freedom go together in a person who is expressing their deepest, truest self in the love of God. She is using her gifts and talents and challenges in serving the Lord, in helping to bring in the kingdom here on earth. And then he is free of all the constraints of the human culture, of the world. S/he has off-loaded all the concerns of the world. Jesus is now sharing his burdens: “for my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”[Matthew 11:30]
The person who is living in the arms of God is free to express exactly who she is in her love of God. He no longer looks to anyone else but God in living his life. Then each of us is free to be just like the child we wanted to be so long ago, free to pursue and express his or her own deepest longings, to experience the joy that comes from doing what we were created to do. Didn’t Jesus say that we had to be like little children to enter the kingdom of God? [Matthew 18:3] Well, there you are! Freedom!
Questions to ponder over the week: In my relationship with God am I trying to be perfect or loving? Do I try to follow his laws to the letter or am I about ever-deepening my relationship with God? Have I breathed in the breath of freedom? Have I tasted what true freedom is?
Blessing for this week: May we be the people of God who love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. May we put God first above everything, including perfect obedience to his laws and commandments. May we be his kind of love in this world to everyone.
This week again I am asking for another kind of testimony for my book on Exodus. Fr. Gregory Boyle who works with gang members in Los Angeles says that we often talk about how when one door closes another door opens in our lives, but no one talks about how far apart the two events are, that there is often a long tunnel between those two events, a long transition. I’d love to hear your stories about the transitional state, in Exodus that would be the wilderness between Egypt and Canaan, what it was like until the other door opened. Where was God for you? What was it like? How did you manage?
I have lots of stories from your lives and I am so grateful and so inspired by them. Thank you all so much for responding. In faith and love, Pat