Thursday, November 4

God's Rules

And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, "The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation." --Exodus 34:6-7

The passage above contains the words that were spoken to Moses just before he came down the mountain to deliver the ten commandments to the Hebrew nation. These verses outline not only why God's commandments are important, but why it is important that we follow them. God's character is displayed as a wide spectrum, ranging from compassionate and gracious to a punisher of many generations.

Many of us, myself included, have a difficult time thinking about the fact that we have a loving God who punishes children. Then I realized that God's punishment, in any form, is actually a loving action. Loving parents do their best to love their children in a way that they hope will result in them growing up to be responsible adults. This does not happen without rules and discipline.

It would be very strange for God to declare that he loves us, but then do nothing to set up some boundaries that keep us from being hurt or from hurting others. He gives us his commandments so that we can live a life that is blessed as the result of making good decisions. What if God were to tell us simply to "be a moral person" but then gave us no guidelines for how to do so? Out of his goodness and love, he provides instructions for us so that there is no mistake about how he wants us to live.

When I think about God as our heavenly father, it helps me to think of him like I do my earthly parents. Good parents set up household rules. My parents had rules about how late I could stay up, how old I had to be before I was allowed to date, and what types of movies I was allowed to rent. These rules we established so that I would limit my exposure to things that would harm me. Breaking the rules resulted in disciplinary action, which to my adolescent brain at the time, seemed stupid or unfair. Now I realize that the punishment for breaking the rules was certainly far less severe than the damage that could have been done to my spiritual, physical or emotional well-being if the rules hadn't existed in the first place.

For example, one house rule was that we could not rent or watch movies that were rated "R". I once broke that rule and rented "Good Will Hunting" hoping to convince my dad that it really wasn't that bad. A mere 15 minutes into the film, we had lost track of the number of f-bombs that were dropped. My dad turned off the VCR, ejected the tape and told me to never bring anything like that into the house again. Although I didn't argue, I thought at the time that he was being unreasonable. When I got to college, I was constantly around a group of people who used language not unlike the dialogue in R-rated movies. The more I heard it, the more I realized that my parents had done a great thing by keeping that kind of language out of our home. Crude language not only makes people sound uneducated, but it is offensive to many people of the general public.

God's rules, like my parents' house rules, serve to protect us from ruining our testimony as a Christian. His punishment for breaking the rules is just, and exists to form us into a person who is more Christ-like. God's character is one that is loving and he demonstrates his love by putting a protective set of guidelines around us to keep us from being foolish or harming ourselves on different levels. God's punishment is also a way that he loves us. Hebrews 12 talks about why God disciplines his children--it is because he is a loving parent. We can't ignore God's punishment, and we can't claim that a God who punishes sin is a God who is unjust. His commandments and punishments exist because he is a God of love. He punishes us until we learn from our mistakes. His punishment serves to restore us unto himself, because that is where we belong.

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