13 November 2019

Nehemiah 9:26–38, John 5:19–29 (read online)

We struggle with obedience. We struggle with rules. We often don’t like the rules created by others, especially if we are to live by them. The reality is that rules do govern our lives. Sometimes the “rules” are not truly rules but are written descriptions of reality. The laws of gravity, entropy, magnetism and so on follow this. Using the word “law” can be deceptive as they are a description of behavior that is perceived that all things follow. Yet, in many respects, these are the only laws that everyone obeys. These laws of physics aren’t something we think about. They are just part of our lives. By and large, all the legal laws we have, we don’t really think about, either, other than some of the driving ones. We don’t think, generally, about laws of incorporation, franchises, utilities, building codes, commerce, in fact, all sorts of things. Sometimes, we might have to deal with some of them, but not always. When we do we recognize it, it is as a societal hoop we jump through if we want to move forward. What ties all of these rules and laws together is that there is no faith component in them. There might be some sort of different faith in regards to the underlying system (e.g., capitalism, democracy), but the laws themselves require no faith.

Unless he obeys, a man cannot believe.
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Israelites didn’t have enough faith to obey, apparently. Or was it something else. What is Dietrich Bonhoeffer getting at? It appears to be a catch-22. The Israelites didn’t have faith, because they didn’t believe, because they didn’t obey? Does faith have anything to do with belief? Time and time again, the Israelites did not obey.

Disobedience became a way of life, and so did unbelief. The ultimate consequence was being slaves in their own land, that they had been given by God. By the time Jesus came, while the Jews (the descendant of the Israelites) were oppressed, they weren’t (by in large) slaves. Their position within the Roman structure wasn’t freedom by our standards, granted. However, their religious leaders created new and enforced old laws that enslaved their hearts. What about obedience? And, that, is where we get to the rub of things.

Jesus put his obedience out there in a way that was different than the religious leaders. Jesus could not do anything on his own. He bound himself to God the Father. This is the kind of obedience that Bonhoeffer is getting at. It’s not rules for rules’ sake (which is what the Jewish law had devolved to), but for the heart of God. Obedience for obedience’s sake, or to get something, is not Godly obedience. Godly obedience is doing as we are called to do by God because we were called to it by God.

1)What do think when you think of obedience?

2) Which is easier, obeying human laws, or God’s laws? Are you sure?