On the gap between what we are taught and our experience...

Last night I was talking with a friend who grew up in the same religious culture I grew up in... We discussed the disillusionment that happens when life doesn't work out the way the people who taught you said it would.

It occurs to me that when your religion focuses primarily on behavior--the rules--often the concepts are "sold" by highlighting the benefits of a holy life. However, if the cause and effect of following those rules doesn't work out as promised, you wind up feeling cheated.

Even if you haven't yet experienced this for yourself, you've likely seen examples.  I've known people who tithed who've gone through terrible financial hardship.  People who were faithful who were betrayed. Women who were submissive to their husbands, whose husbands took advantage of that rather than 'loving them as Christ loved...' The list goes on... The thing is that until you've experienced this for yourself, then you remain part of the culture. And while you are part of the culture, the instinct is to protect it with a tendency to judge people outside of it as "not having followed the rules correctly" rather than perceiving that there might be a problem with the culture itself.

We often miss the criticisms Jesus leveled at the Pharisees because we think of them as historic figures of the past. Yet those men were champions of knowing and following the rules.  We focus our attention on the actual rules that they followed so that we miss how easily we've adopted those same patterns in the cultures we've designed in Jesus' name. 

What if the flaw in the premise isn't the God we serve, but rather the 'teachings of men'?

If love is the definition of the highest commandment*, then wouldn't we be more focused on hearts rather than observation of lines that have been drawn? What if God allows these disconnects in our experience to shatter the illusion of control that the rules provide, making it easier to see Him in the world outside of those lines?

One of the things about love is that our hearts know its presence (or lack) more keenly than the rules we've been taught.  If it is lacking, we will either break the rules to chase after it or die a slow death of the heart willing ourselves to stay within them without it. I wonder how different our religion would be if we valued love over the lines?  Or at the very least were willing to acknowledge that many of our rules have to do with fear--which by definition has little to do with love.**

And so what about the rules? I love what Jon Acuff wrote about grace: "You can never out grace a God who sent his son to the cross for you. You will never have a reaction to a situation or a sin or a person or an issue that is more loving than God. Your reaction will never, ever outweigh God’s." 

Maybe, just maybe, we could pursue that heart of grace more ardently than we pursue the rules. It occurs to me that if we did that, highlighting the rules would be unnecessary, because love would become the heart of who we are.

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*Mark 12:28-31 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.   Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

**1 John 4:18  There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
© Random Cathy
Maira Gall