Just one rule
By Bobby Neal Winters
When Jesus prayed, he spoke to the Father. “Our Father who art in heaven...”
While it is certainly true that God is so beyond our capacity to understand as to be incomprehensible to tiny, ignorant creatures such as ourselves; and while God is expressed through the feminine as well as the masculine; and while I wouldn’t wish to set up any barriers for anyone—male or female—who was trying to approach God, I follow Jesus’ example by referring to the Father as well.
It’s comfortable, it’s traditional, and I am a man so the male authoritarian figure is attractive to me, I suppose. However, I do believe there is more to this means of addressing God than just these aspects. When Jesus walked among us, he was addressing a certain people living in a certain time. To these people, the word ‘father’ conjured up a certain sort of image. Fathers were the bosses of their homes in that society, regardless of whether we think that should be the case today. And, in particular, the fathers made the rules for the home.
While I could pick other scripture to make my point, we see this most clearly in the story of the Fall of Man in Garden of Eden.
I am far from the first to observe that Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden behave like children. “They were naked and they were not ashamed.” God was their father and He was the one who made the rules. Actually, he only made one rule: “Don’t eat of the fruit of that one tree.” He even put teeth in the rule by saying if they ate the fruit they would die.
Those of us who are parents could predict what happened next. The one rule was broken, and God, like any good parent, showed mercy. He didn’t snuff out their lives, but, like a father, let them live with the consequences of their actions. They broke the one rule of Eden so they were forever barred from there, placing cherubim and a flaming sword to keep man forever away from the tree of life.
As we follow the story of man’s relationship with God, man continually becomes more alienated. He recedes farther and farther from Eden and goes further into sin. As a result, God gives man more laws. The Law is not meant as a punishment or a wall between God and ourselves, but as a means for man to do what is right, a way to live in harmony with God and His creation.
We can think of the Law as a bridge. We are on one side of the river and God is on the other. The Law allows us to cross over. The problem is that, over time, a river can shift out of its bed so that a particular bridge no longer takes us across but simply remains there as a reminder of where the river once was.
We can read through Leviticus and find various pieces of the Law stranded like bridges in the desert. They were given by God at particular times and after a while they no longer served their purpose. We can look upon them as reminders of the grace God showed his people at that time.
My wife and I have rules for our children. The rules for the 18-year-old are different than those for the 14-year-old which, in turn, are different than those for the 7-year-old. Each has different needs at different times.
Many Christians believe Jesus did away with all of the Law, with all of the rules, but that’s not true. He said himself that he did not come to destroy the Law but to complete it. In fact, he gave us one more on top of the rest: “Love one another.”
In some sense, this includes all of the others. We could say that all of the other rules ever given were simply refinements of this one. For we United Methodists, it might take more imagination that we have to believe that all of the Book of Discipline flows from love, yet if it is to be in line with Jesus’ greatest commandment, it should.
With Christ, we are back to our Edenic condition of having just one rule to follow, and, just as with Adam and Eve, we cannot follow even that one.
(Bobby Winters is a Professor of Mathematics at Pittsburg State University, a writer, and a United Methodist Lay Speaker. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org