“My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” – Proverbs 3:11-12
My wife took my four-year-old son to the mall today to ring the bell for the salvation army collection bucket. I’m told it was a very fun time and, as intended, gave him another opportunity to see that not everybody in the world is as well off as he is, and that people are willing to give to help those in need.
During the bell ringing session, a curious thing happened, that I think serves as a good segway into how Christians relate to non-Christians, either in personal settings or public policy debates. My son, like many four-year-olds, has some excess energy at times. Expending some of this energy, and messing with anything available in the process, he found himself pushing the Salvation Army collection bucket to watch it swing back and forth on its pendulum. My wife quickly addressed the issue, explaining that he could ring the bell but he could not swing the bucket back and forth. Problem solved.
Then, something interesting happened. Some of the other kids who were there ringing bells began pushing the bucket to watch it swing (no doubt having seen my son do it first). At this, my son bristled, explaining to them “you’re not allowed to do that.” The kids were a bit confused by this statement, not accustomed to taking orders from another kid, one whom they’ve never even met before.
With this, I should point out that I do not believe that my son was insisting that these kids suffer under some “no fun” rule set like him. He wasn’t saying “I’m not allowed to have any fun, so I want to make sure you can’t either.” Nor do I think he was trying to throw some false authority around, claiming control over the actions of his compatriots. No, to a four-year-old this is a much simpler scenario. It goes something like this: “Mommy, an authority figure who is in charge of this situation, has informed me that there are rules to be followed here, rules that I was unfamiliar with until now. But, those are the rules – the rightful authority (Mommy) has told me. Apparently, you guys aren’t aware of the rules. Since I am aware of the rules, and also aware that there are generally consequences for breaking the rules, I feel obligated to step in and help you out with this situation. What kind of friend would I be if I sat idly by and let you violate these rules?”
After his declaration, my wife stepped in and explained to my son that she (the rightful authority) was only in charge of him, not the other kids. [cue light bulb and choir of angelic voices.]
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!'” – Galations 4:4-6
God has sent His Spirit into the hearts of the believers, who have received adoption as sons. We are part of the family. We have a Daddy, who is the rightful authority in our lives. When Daddy says we ought to behave in this way or that (and He does), then we indeed ought to behave this way or that. He is Daddy. He is in charge. He is the rightful authority.
How often though do we follow the example of my four-year-old when relating to non-Christians? How often do we come across people who, by their own admission are not believers, are not Christians, are not interested in this relationship with God – and demand that they follow Daddy’s directives just the same? Not everyone calls our God “Daddy” and not everyone is able (see John 8:44).
When I was in college, many years ago, I remember any number of days spent at the gathering place on the main campus (a place called “the Pit” at UNC Chapel Hill) where debates sprung up about the nature of morality and what the Bible has to say about this or that. It seemed quite natural. It dawns on me now that we often had Christians and non-Christians debating issues of morality (fornication, theft, homosexuality, you-name-it). Now, debating these moral issues is fine. But we were debating what the Bible had to say about them.
Isn’t it odd for a Christian enter a debate with a non-Christian (by their own admission) about Bible-based morality? They don’t call Him “Abba, Father” – why is it expected that they should follow Biblical moral principles? (As if we don’t have a hard enough time with it ourselves.)
Yes, ultimately God is the final authority on all things. Refusing to be a Christian does not abrogate the existence of final judgment – not in the least. And to be sure, there is a significant place for the church to operate as an agent of spreading truth. But if the debate immediately turns to intricacies of Levitical law, or interpretations of Sodom and Gomorrah, or where the line is to be drawn on “drunkenness” then we’re a bit off topic. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23).
Are we trying to convince sinners of the sinfulness of their specific behavior? Do we need fundamental apologetic inerrancy to convict the world of sin? Does anybody believe that if they can just convince themselves that a specific sin may have questionable meaning in Biblical context, that they are sinless relative to the rest of the text? Nonsense. Show me the drunkard who has never lied, stolen, or fornicated. It’s a tall order.
Do we then go to the liar or the fornicator and say “you should stop what you’re doing”? I think not. At least not as specifically as that. “You should repent of your sin” – yes. “God has mercy and forgiveness for you too, and you have sinned just as everybody else has.” – yes. “There is a hope and a grace for you; Jesus paid the price for your sins (yes they are many) and salvation is a free gift of God” – amen. But not “you should follow my Daddy’s rules because He’s God, and not follow your daddy’s rules – my Daddy is stronger than your daddy and He is in charge here.”
Perhaps this is why I eschew any form of moral dictates in public policy. (With the exception that defending human rights often takes on the flavor of moralism – but that is not the foundational goal.) Should we use the strong arm of the government to enforce Daddy’s rules? Does He need us to do that, or does He prefer that people choose Him willingly?