Everyone hates a 35 m.p.h. zone when you could safely go 60. Most drivers faced with that situation, and lack of visible police, will choose to go what they deem the right speed for the road. They know 35 m.p.h. is the law, but because the law seems nonsensical, they break it. No one will be hurt. They’ve made a judgment for a specific situation based on reasonable data without rejecting all highway rules, and nothing is lost for it.
After all, we all want to agree before we obey. And before agreement comes understanding—the embrace of the rationale.
In many cases, acting this way is reasonable, even wise. But in some instances, it’s how we make ourselves God.
Rules about Fruit? Really?
Think back to the paradigmatic sin of the Garden. There was one rule to obey: don’t eat the fruit of a specific tree. Many have asked, even mocked, “Why this rule?” There is nothing wrong with eating fruit; even vegans do it. To obey this rule, a person would have to decide to listen to God’s Word over their own opinion—which demonstrates God’s genius in providing it. The rule itself demonstrates the true locus of righteous obedience: trust in God’s character and intentions.
It would have seemed entirely reasonable for God to give Adam a different rule: Adam, don’t kill your wife and only friend, Eve. Eve, don’t kill Adam. This is different from some rule about fruit; we intuitively feel its righteousness. Murder violates our neighbor’s right to live; it’s horrifying; and Adam or Eve would only bring about their own loneliness. The rule makes good sense to us. In fact, it doesn’t even require us to believe in God at all.
But the fruit was different. “The woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise” (Gen. 3:6). Eve looked the tree over after the serpent introduced doubt of God’s goodness into her mind. She analyzed the data and concluded the rule was absurd. She knew it was law, but because the law seemed nonsensical, and because doubt about God’s character had been introduced, she and her husband broke it. They thought they were stepping into enlightenment and freedom.
They were, of course, tragically wrong.
In each age there are some aspects of God’s law that fit comfortably with a given culture, but others that look to be flat wrong. Can we trust God, invisible and mysterious, over what is plain to see? Over what intuitively feels right? Over what seems senseless?
Why would we want to?
Looking at Jesus Changes Everything
There are many possible answers; the most compelling for me is the goodness and trustworthiness of God in Jesus Christ. God is under no compulsion to save us. I have acted treacherously in my own life, and I think God would be right to punish my arrogance, hatred, and lying. But instead of choosing the morally good option of justly condemning me, God chose to send his Son to die in my stead. And Jesus himself chose to come.
We can never know what a shock leaving perfect joy and fellowship must have been for God’s eternal Son. He willingly chose a life of poverty, in a politically occupied country, with an earthly father who probably died young. Jesus’s friends constantly misunderstood him, and those who should’ve recognized him schemed against him. He was a homeless itinerant. Then he submitted to the humiliation and raw pain of a false trial and crucifixion. He never had to do any of it, but he chose it for our sake. Jesus became poor to make us rich. He suffered and died for us, in our place.
I can trust this person. He’s proven forever that he has my good at heart, that he loves me—so much so that he paid a scandalous personal cost. Outside of a relationship with this person, I can’t take the risk of trusting what goes against my cultural instincts. But as I know him more and more—his power, his intelligence, his goodness, his love—I can trust. I can obey. Even before I understand; even if I never quite do.