There comes a point in every kid’s life where they realize they can do some things for themselves. At that point, nothing short of complete autonomy will do. Shoe-tying, craft-making, bed-making. At some point the parents’ words ‘here let me…’ become remarkably dangerous. No! I’ll do it myself!
And this is a good thing, no? The goal of parenting is to raise up independent, upright, kids who choose to be responsible, competent, moral, all on their own.
And this mental disposition continues throughout our lives. I think of that line from Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character in ‘Inception,’ when he is explaining the concept of attempting to secretly implant an idea in someone’s mind (by manipulating their dreams) to influence their behavior: ‘The mind can always trace the genesis of an idea.’
Ideas that really take root and change someone’s life or behavior must be, or at least seem in some way, organic.
The human will is deeply resistant to being commanded. You can fill people with facts and ideas and commands all you want, but the rubber rarely hits the road until we have decided for ourselves to act a certain way. Good therapists know this. Telling someone what to do rarely amounts to a true change of disposition or character. Questions that bring someone to self-awareness, are more important than straight advice, in any good therapy setting.
This phenomenon may be, in part, the rebellious human nature of Adam & Eve within us. But I think there’s something important and beautiful about this resistance we have to being told what to do. We’ve lived in bondage to sin and Satan for so long, we’re desperate to burst free of it. Maybe our human rebelliousness is, at least at times, a haphazard attempt to regain a lost autonomy.
Indeed, God gives us this moral freedom back. Even the hardened Calvinist will admit that when God works on our souls, it is not to make us passive slaves to Himself , but to return us to a freedom to choose the good. I believe that God’s desire is that we would learn to freely, autonomously, choose the right and the good for ourselves. To choose Him for ourselves; not to begrudgingly be obligated to law, but instead freely desiring the good for ourselves.
In God’s dealings with us, He can be rather coy, and rather complex, in the ways He pulls us up to independence and freedom.
There are so many wonderful examples in the Old Testament of godly people arguing with God. I don’t think we let ourselves be offended by this enough. What gave Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Job, the audacity to argue with God? To talk back to Him? To question Him? And why on earth would we ever feel safe doing the same thing?
We think of ourselves, too often, as passive slaves to righteousness. But God’s end is not for us to simply be robots doing his bidding, but independent lovers of Him, of righteousness.
I can’t help but think that when Moses shouts back ‘How dare you threaten to wipe Israel away! Take my soul instead!’ or when Job wonders aloud if God is cruel and unjust, or when Abraham bargains ‘Please Lord, for just a handful of righteous people, show mercy,’ God looks down with a glimmer in His eye:
‘Now you’ve got it, kid.’
Of course, there are counter examples. Abraham came pretty close to sacrificing Isaac. But this must also be read in the context of Abraham’s whole life, where he had wrestled, questioned, argued with God and found Him faithful. But found Him faithful, found Him trustworthy, from a place of independence and freedom, not from fear or guilt.
When these characters had the audacity to question God, to shout back, it is because they had become so deeply, independently, consumed with a thirst for righteousness that they would even dare to doubt, to speak up, to feel what they felt and be honest about it. And this is what God was after the whole time, I think.
Indeed, in my most honest moments, I am deeply troubled by the fact that the further and deeper I wander into God’s love, the more and more I question, wrestle, and argue with Him. Why rape? Why hunger? Why cancer?
And I tell God how I feel. Sometimes with tears. Sometimes with yelling. Often with anger. But He never tells me to sit down and shut up. Well, sometimes He might. He did tell Job to quiet down after a while. But only after a while. A good, long, while.
A passive slave to righteousness, like the Pharisees, misses the spirit for the word. They follow the rules but never feel love.
True love, true righteousness, is not borne out of fear, obligation, or guilt. Victims of abuse struggle to accept this – for so long they have been manipulated into thinking that any freedom, any independence, any ‘no,’ any failure to sacrifice everything to an undeserving another is an act of selfishness, it is a failure to love. But no, this is not love. We cannot love when we act from obligation or fear. That is not true love.
God is not an abuser. He is exactly the opposite. But these same principles apply in relationships with all people. An abuse victim struggles to have real, whole, relationships with others because they have not known how to love in freedom. They have not known love without obligation or fear. We cannot love God, or the people God loves, out of obligation or fear.
A passive slave to righteousness is so scared of God, so compulsively guilty in His presence, that they can never really accept the grace that is there to compel them to star over again, to become new, to become whole, moral, independent.
We are called to be slaves of righteousness, but it is a slavery that is remarkably free. It frees us to love God, to love others, to love the good. It frees us to be upright.
“In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright.” -Job 1:1