Digging in Deeper: Exodus 19:5

“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my reassured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine…”  (ESV – Read the chapter)

One of the things we are called to (and by “we,” I mean “everybody”) over and over again in the Scriptures is obedience.  We live in a day, though, when obedience is not a popular idea.  We want to be free to do as we please.  We want to loosen the restrictions on ourselves so we can pursue our hearts’ desires without any limitations.  Nobody likes the idea of obedience…except for when they do.

The fact is, obedience itself is not a bad thing.  What affects our reaction to the idea is the situation in and the particular person by whom it is being asked for (or indeed demanded).  For example, consider the relationship between a citizen and the government for a moment.  Nobody likes the idea of some impersonal body of lawmakers telling us how to live our lives.  On this both liberals and conservatives can agree, yes?  At least, we don’t like it until someone has broken the laws that body has passed to govern society in a way injurious to us and we want the ones duly designated and empowered to enforce those laws to come and demand obedience with the threat of punishment for failing to do so.

Really, what we want is laws in place to keep society running smoothly, with the ability to break those laws without cost when they become inconvenient to us (traffic laws anyone?).  But, no society could possibly work well for long in this kind of a place, even less so if the citizens are not naturally virtuous.  The truth is–and in our most honest moments we understand this even if we might not willingly acknowledge it–we owe a measure of obedience to our governing authorities and the laws they pass in exchange for the privilege of being a citizen in the society they are maintaining.

Now, if these governing authorities are not passing wise, beneficial-to-most laws such that citizenship becomes something less than a privilege, there are a variety of ways to respond to this unfortunate state of affairs (and the best societies have measures–i.e. laws–in place to allow for vigorous debate and even measured, responsible action should someone believe this to be the case), but without this basic operational framework, the society won’t work at all.

Or perhaps consider the relationship between a parent and a child.  There are few things so unsettling to an outside observer as a disobedient child.  Now, I don’t necessarily mean a misbehaving toddler, which can be cute (although that is an early symptom of a deeper problem should the state of affairs be allowed to continue without consequence).  But a willfully insubordinate and disobedient child is an ugly sight.

But, as children, we couldn’t disagree more.  Children, especially teenagers, want the freedom to “be who they are.”  They want the ability to explore themselves and experiment with their identity to the full extent of their hearts’ desire.  Still, most adults and nearly all parents recognize that children owe their parents a measure of obedience as a privilege of being raised by them.  Now, again, if being raised by them is not a privilege (something not to be determined by a teenager who isn’t currently getting his way), there are methods for dealing with this situation, but it is unfailingly a state of affairs in which things are not as they should be.

So, obedience isn’t such a terrible idea as we might first think it to be.  In fact, in some situations it is good and right and necessary for the proper functioning of life.  What is not a good state of affairs, however, is when obedience has to be demanded.  When someone demands obedience, even if she is a duly recognized authority with the right to expect obedience, something has gone wrong.

When authority has to be demanded, one of a number of different situations is in place.  Either the one who is to be subordinate is incorrigibly disobedient, the two parties are irredeemably at odds on the best state of affairs and the one in the position of authority is attempting to use the expectation of obedience as a means of settling the debate, or the one in authority is feeling insecure in his position.

What, then, are we to make of the affirmations and even commands we receive over and again in the Scriptures to obey the Lord?  Is one of these three options going on?  Are they a display of either His weakness or His arrogance?  No on all counts.

Rather, with God, something else is happening.  Perhaps the best comparison for reference purposes would be a loving parent or a truly benevolent government calling her children or citizens to remain faithfully under their proper authority not out of anger or exasperation or anything else like that, but from a place of lovingly, humble recognition that this is the state of affairs that will best lead to our flourishing.

Because God is who the Scriptures describe Him to be, we owe Him obedience as His creatures.  Obeying His words isn’t merely helpful for living our best possible life, it is good and right and true and the only state of affairs that coheres fully with reality.  He calls us to obedience not because He is frustrated with our lack of subordination (although He certainly is sometimes), or because He’s feeling slighted by our listening to other voices (although He is jealous for our affection), but because He knows that no other state of affairs will lead to our flourishing, and as our creator, He wants that more than anything else.

When we see these frequent calls to obedience in the Scriptures, we need to not react as spoiled children or citizens full of indignation.  God is not calling us to something that is merely convenient to Him.  He is calling us to life.  He is calling us to live within the spacious bounds of reality.  The simple truth about this world is that He is God and we are not.  He made us, not the other way around.  He is our creator and so we owe Him a debt of obedience.  In going with His words and not our own preferences, we will be walking the path of life.

Pursue a life of obedience then, not because of the threat of consequence for a failure to do so (although that is real), but because it is good and right and in doing so you will find life; life not found by any other means.  Let us obey Him so that we can be truly who we are: His.

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