Morality vs. Jesus

I am a compulsive rule-follower, and not in a go-the-speed-limit-no-matter-what kind of way. Sure, I try to observe speed laws whenever possible, but I’d say I’m more of a rule follower in a wait-ninety-seconds-for-the-Hot-Pocket-to-cool-because-it-said-so-in-the-directions-and-surely-the-makers-of-Hot-Pockets-want-what’s-best-for-me kind of way. There are few things about me that could be classified as “hardcore,” but my devotion to rules might come close.

That’s why it was a bit of an odd moment for me when I realized Abraham never had the Ten Commandments.

This guy got to father the nation of Israel. He was singled out by God for blessing. He had such great faith that he was credited with righteousness, but he never even had God’s core list of Do’s and Don’t’s. Neither did Noah, or Joseph, or any other Genesis hero of the faith you want to think about. God didn’t provide the Ten Commandments until his people had grown from a family to a clan to a nation of slaves recently escaped from one of the most powerful countries on the planet.

To a compulsive rule-follower, that’s a little weird.

The only explanation is that, while rules are important, they’re not the point. I can and should follow the laws God gives me, but if that’s all I do, I’m only treating the symptoms of a much deeper issue: that I am broken and sinful at my very core. Refusing to covet my neighbor’s donkey will only go so far. It can’t change what’s inside me.

Fortunately, God knew this. When Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, God told them what a mess they’d made. He told them the consequences they’d be dealing with. But before he did that, he promised to fix what they’d broken.

And he wasn’t going to do it with a list of rules.

He was going to do it with a boy.

And while that boy did give us behavior pointers, none of his instruction was really that new. It was radical to that culture – even to this one – but not new. He was only revealing what had been at the heart of the law all along. He was just showing people what they’d missed.

So if all Jesus had done was show up, tell us how to properly follow the rules, and then go back to heaven, we wouldn’t be any closer to fixing our rotting, sinful cores. Jesus didn’t fix us by being a great teacher.

He fixed us by being the perfect sacrifice.

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3 thoughts on “Morality vs. Jesus

  1. Since I’m a programmer, I understand things in software terms. If I make what is, to me, an intuitive analogy: a nation (or really any community) is a good example of a distributed system. It’s a number of actors mutually working towards a greater goal. Really I see Israel as three phases:

    Clan scale: a little clan, growing from Adam & Eve to Jacob’s sons. At this point, they didn’t need as many rules because the shared resources (in this case, morality) were self-imposed. There were a few rules (like circumcision) but the group of actors was able to bring a single rogue back in line or excise it from the community.

    Nation scale: the nation of Israel in Exodus, leaving Egypt. In Egypt, they had a framework for obedience (slavery) and they were experiencing growing pains both from the sudden lack of servitude as well as their environmental changes. It makes a lot of sense at this point for God to provide an axiomatic set of rules for the community to obey. We see a couple of times rogue agents not being reigned in or expelled from the community, EG the incident with the golden calf. The shared resource of morality and self-control seems to be finite at this point, and individual actors are hitting a bottleneck due to peer pressure and those pesky environmental changes.

    Nation state scale: This is where Jesus comes into the picture and looks at what the religious majority has built. Basically, He would be the role of an experienced systems architect when the last several hundred iterations of “the rules” have been tweaked rather naively. He takes the concept of a shared state of morality and turns it: the first rule is still to love God, but now instead of obeying rules, we are to love our neighbors. Essentially we turn from a shared pool to peer to peer communication. Needless to say, this scales a lot better, and makes more sense for individuals.

    I think this is a lot of why Christian morals continue to appeal to me: we’re held accountable by a higher power, but largely have agency to just do what’s right. We have a wonderful spiritual heritage, and yet we share that with fellow believers all over the world without (necessarily) having to follow overly strict religious doctrine like the Jews in Roman times did. It’s an elegant and wisely balanced distributed architecture.

    You do still have to watch out for those hot pockets, though.

    • I can see where you’re coming from. From an organizational standpoint, Israel definitely would have needed more and more regulation as they got larger. You definitely start seeing this later on when you get regulations for handling people with infectious diseases and how to handle people who’ve fallen out of favor with the nation. But the Ten Commandments weren’t regulations in that sense – they were a moral code.

      So maybe we’ve been talking about different things this whole time, but for the sake of argument, if what you’re talking about – as far as needing more rules the bigger the nation got – is referring to moral codes instead of procedural regulation, I’m not sure I agree with you. For this would be true, you’d have to accept that mankind wasn’t quite as sinful as a small family as when it grew into the huge nation you see by the end of Exodus. I look at the stuff that happens in early Genesis, and I find it hard not to believe mankind bottomed out as far as sin nature goes pretty much immediately.

      Thanks for responding, man. Like I said on Twitter, this is something I’m still processing. Looking forward to hearing back from you.

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