Rules or Relationship
“It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship. It’s not about rules and regulations, but about a personal relationship with Jesus.” That’s what I was told as a young college student when approached on campus by the local college ministry, and that’s what I told countless students for the next few years as I participated in my college ministry evangelism strategies. This idea of relationship over rules has influenced me in many ways, but I wonder how this works itself out in practice.
I hope you will indulge me in a little thought experiment – an imaginative exploration of how things might have been. In the first few chapters of the book of Genesis in the Bible we read the scenes that set up the rest of the story. The first thing we encounter is God making rules. Eat this, don’t eat that. OK, it wasn’t the first thing. But, it is one of the early documented interactions between God and humans. Whether the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil are literal trees or metaphorical is not the point of this post – for in either case, there were rules concerning them.
Along comes another resident in the garden, one who was created prior to the humans. This creature asks for clarification of the rules – perhaps God didn’t have the same rules for the other creatures in the Garden. In reading the rest of the story, we discover that God wasn’t too keen on the way humans handled this interaction and there were consequences. Here’s where I’m hoping to do a little bit of imagining. I wonder how God would have hoped humans would respond to the questioning of the rules? I wonder if God knew the boundaries would be pushed, the Garden values would be challenged? Did God wish the humans would have come with their questions and concerns before making a decision to cross the line? Would God have responded, “Just do what I say! Obedience is the most important thing!! It’s my job to keep everyone safe, and if you just follow my rules…”
Before God gave the rules, God established relationship and gave responsibility. When I talk to my girls about sexual purity, I know the boundaries will get challenged. I know the questions will come. I know the consequences can be painful. But for me, it’s not about rules, it’s about relationship. Does that mean I don’t have rules? No way! Rules and boundaries are an important part of relationship. But, rules and boundaries are not the basis of relationship and obedience is not the goal. Life and love are the goal. When the rules get challenged and the validity of the consequences questioned, I hope and pray my girls will come and talk to me about their questions. I hope to establish good communication and healthy opportunities for questioning and debate that will lead them to a place of making wise decisions based on knowledge and understanding, not fear of consequences.