As a driver, I roll through stops signs all the time.
I look both ways of course, and if there’s no traffic, why stop? It wastes the brakes and gasoline. I slow down; I don’t speed through stop signs. With no traffic, I roll.
But I won’t speed through a neighborhood, ever. Other drivers frequently come up to my bumper when I’m going 20-25 mph. I raised three sons in a neighborhood. I’ve seen young children cross the street. I’ve seen basketballs and Frisbees sail past driveway boundaries. I’ve caused that myself. I see kids riding bicycles in the street. I see dog-walkers all the time. I occasionally see kids playing hockey in the street.
I will not speed through a neighborhood, mine or any other. Period.
I’ve been called out for rolling through stop signs. And impatient drivers wish I would kick it into gear when I’m driving past your house.
In this country, we frequently break the wrong rules.
“Must” and “should”
Last weekend I was challenge master for Region 16 (northeast Ohio) of the Fine Arts challenge of Destination Imagination, an international after-school creative problem-solving program I’ve been involved with for many years. I love “DI,” as it’s called.
One thing I appreciate about DI is its willingness to stretch boundaries. The Fine Arts challenge this year centers around an “existing, publicly available photograph.” In the explanation of what that could be, the writers of the challenge sometimes used “must” and other times used the word “should.”
“Must” and “should” are not synonyms.
If the bullet point says “must,” that’s non-negotiable. Each team (of two to seven young people) must do that particular requirement as it’s written.
If the bullet point says “should,” then the team members can think outside the box. They don’t have to follow that rule exactly. There are limits, but the rule is not hard and fast.
How far can the team go? How creative can they get? That’s the fun part of the challenge.
We’re teaching our young people that some rules cannot be broken, and others are open to interpretation. In the written challenge, we tell them which is which.
If only life was that way.
Non-negotiable vs. interpretation
I claim a deep faith in God, in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I’ve written or alluded to my faith in this blog many times. I believe the Bible is God’s inspired word. The living God wants the best for us, and He describes for us, in detail, the best way to live. He created us, so He gets to do that, right?
When a contractor builds a house, he knows the purpose of each room, so he builds it for that purpose. God does the same with us.
We like to stretch or break God’s rules, don’t we? (Good thing contractors don’t do that.)
As a journalist by trade, I’m an out-of-the-box thinker. I’m not going to do what you say just because you say so. Show me why. I might know a better way.
God understands me.
The Bible actually has very few hard-and-fast rules. Our pastor this week told us that Jesus gave his disciples about 60 commands in the three years He spent with them. That’s a lot, actually. He’s going to preach on them for the next couple of weeks, so this will be interesting.
How many of those commands are open to interpretation? When Jesus commanded us to “love one another,” for example, what exactly does that mean? We have to read and understand all of who Jesus is and what He did to answer that question. The interpretation isn’t as wide-open as we often think it should be.
Let’s pick one example that’s relevant to today’s America: homosexuality.
The Bible calls it sin (a crime against God, basically) in multiple places. For example:
For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.
But those are the apostle Paul’s words, you say. Jesus Himself never talked about homosexuality, so it must be acceptable, right? I’ve heard some of you make that argument.
Jesus did talk about marriage and divorce, however – and raised the bar for both. In response to a question from the Pharisees (religious leaders who tried to justify themselves), Jesus quoted the book of Genesis, where God said that “a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).
Jesus took that to another level. He added:
“So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
Jesus assumes marriage is between a man and a woman, because that’s the way God designed it from the beginning.
Marriage was a big deal in Jesus’ day, and followed a lengthy process. Joseph and Mary were “betrothed” during Mary’s pregnancy with Jesus. For all intents and purposes, they were already married, even though they didn’t live together yet and hadn’t had the ceremony. That’s why Joseph planned to quietly “divorce” her even though they weren’t officially married yet.
A homosexual relationship is one of those rules that is not meant to be broken.
But, as with many of His commands, Jesus takes sexual sin to another level. All sex outside of marriage, including heterosexual sex (the Bible calls that fornication), is forbidden. We tend to focus on homosexuality because that takes the focus off most of the rest of us, who are just as sinful in our sex lives. Jesus called lust adultery (Matthew 5:27-28).
Worship styles? There’s plenty of leeway for that. Serving the poor and needy? That’s a command, but there’s many ways to do it.
Churches and denominations have split over worship styles and other non-essential issues. White American worship is not, by any stretch, the “right” way to do church. Despite what some would have you believe.
We hold fast the wrong rules.
And we break the wrong rules.
So, which rules are the non-negotiables, and which ones are open to interpretation? The Bible has a word to help us with that: “discernment.” It’s a fancy word that means understanding what truth really is, what right and wrong truly are, and which issues are mere shades of gray. It’s something God gives to people who try to understand Him.
Discernment is not a bad trait to have in secular society, either. Is rolling through a stop sign at a deserted intersection the same as speeding through a neighborhood where children might be playing?
I’ll let you answer that one.