In our church we talk a lot about obedience. This is for good reason, but I think being so obedience-focused comes with certain risks.
One of these risks is that we misunderstand the reason behind obedience. Not understanding the reason behind rules will make anyone resentful, annoyed and reluctant toward the rules.
As any parent can tell you, if you order a child to do something (“Don’t touch that! Clean your room!”) without making sure the child understands the why, what you get is an annoyed, reluctant child. Or a child who only obeys to appease and avoid punishment.
But if you lovingly explain the why’s (“If you touch that, your finger is going to get a big ouchie on it.” “If you leave your room a mess all the time, we’ll never find your toys and it will be smelly and then bugs will come and build little bug houses.”), then their obedience starts to come without resentment.
Instead of blindly obeying endless rules, they start to understand that the rules are in their best interest and come not from a cruel dictator but from a parent who loves them.
There have been many times in my life where I have kept all the “rules” reluctantly or with slight annoyance. I lost focus of the why. I mistook the means for the end. And then when I messed up, I became quickly discouraged and started to feel like God was upset with me.
And when you think God is mad at you, guess what you don’t feel like doing?
Praying, connecting with Him, keeping the rules, and good stuff like that.
Instead of seeing God as a loving parent who wants what is best for me, I start to be annoyed at all His demands and expectations.
Enoch was shocked to find that when God looked out on the wickedness and misery of His children, Enoch found Him weeping. Perhaps he was surprised to not find Him mad or upset at all the people breaking His rules after all He’d done for them. Enoch was so surprised he asked God three times, “how canst thou weep?”
Of this encounter Teryl Givens says,
“In the vision of Enoch, we find ourselves drawn to a God who prevents all the pain He can, assumes all the suffering He can and weeps over the misery He can neither prevent nor assume.”
God loves us to the point of utter vulnerability, which is astounding. Given that He has all power and knowledge, He could exact justice from a place where He wouldn’t be so affected by our actions emotionally. He could be guarded or emotionally detached. But instead, He weeps over us. He has literally given everything He can for the chance we will use our agency to choose Him and even when we don’t, He weeps.
Of all the versions of God I could choose to focus on – vengeful, jealous, angry – I choose this one: the God who weeps.
I choose it because those attributes that resonate with the deepest parts of me as good–kindness in the face of anger, love in the face of hate, gentleness when there is harshness, meekness where there is pride, charity, relentless forgiveness, love unfeigned, unconditional love, sacrifice, service–these things that I know from my gut are the most noble, honorable and deeply good things one can strive for- I HAVE to believe that God is not only the source of these things, but their very embodiment.
He has to possess those qualities or why would we strive toward them? Why would they resonate with our souls as good if God does not possess them in their perfect form?
And if I believe in this God who perfectly possesses all the qualities I value the most– goodness, forgiveness, kindness, compassion– He would not be angry at me when I mess up. Instead, I think He weeps and I think He waits hoping for me to choose my agency to let Him heal and help me.
In our constant desire for approval and validation and acceptance, we often get it backwards.
We are not obedient to keep God from being mad at us. We do not make good choices for His approval or validation. We are obedient because we understand what His divine love means for us. Because He loves us so deeply, we trust that He knows the exact path that will lead to our greatest happiness. And that is why we obey. Understanding His love leads to our trust in His rules.
God isn’t a pouty toddler demanding we please Him with our righteousness and if we don’t- He’ll take away His acceptance and love. His acceptance and love is not what is at stake. They never are. What is at stake are the barriers WE put up between us and His love and healing. Those are what we should be concerned about.
God loves us so deeply that His greatest desire- His work and His glory is to help us use our agency to CHOOSE Him. He loves us enough to never make that choice for us even if we wish He would. Even if HE wishes He could- He can’t. Because that is not what true love is.
True love is allowing what is best for the one you love play out over the easier, more comfortable route. And God is deeply devoted to what is best for us. So much so that He holds back, He holds back and weeps to allow us to ALWAYS be the decider in our own destiny.
So if you ever wonder, as I do from time to time, if God is mad at you. And especially if this feeling is keeping you from connecting with God, just remember that image Enoch described of your Father in Heaven weeping over you and your struggles. And then let that love wash over you and draw you closer to your Creator who loves you.
Application to Marriage
Just as we don’t do nice things for God to make Him happy with us. Our reasons behind being kind to our spouse shouldn’t just be for their approval, validation or acceptance. We aren’t nice to our spouse only so THEY will be happy with us. We are kind and compassionate because our spouses are WORTHY of kindness and compassion regardless of what we may get out of it. Our love should never be dependent on the love we get in return (although this is a VERY common misunderstanding).
We love because it is worth it to love. We are kind because it is worth it to be kind. Even if our love and kindness goes un-reciprocated or unappreciated — the very act of choosing love will expand us and make us grow in beautiful ways.
This doesn’t mean we become doormats in the face of abuse. That is not love. Setting up boundaries is a very loving thing to do (and I’m going to be talking allll about boundaries in my next post). But love has to be at the heart of our boundaries or they are just going to be selfish lines in the sand benefiting no one.
Still, I truly believe returning love for hate, being kind in the face of anger or apathy is at the very heart of what it means to be God-like. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in marriage. Loving for the sake of love regardless of what we get in return is what real love is. Both for God and for our marriages.
When we get out of the mindset of “what’s in it for us?” we are able to worry less about the love our spouse shows and more about the love we show. We often waste so much time and energy worrying about what THEY think of us (No fair! They don’t accept me for who I am!) that we are blinded to the barriers we ourselves are constructing between us and our access to love.
Just like with obedience to God, the “whys” of why we love our spouse is crucial here. And the whys can’t be rooted in what we get in return for our love or we are going to be calling out “no fair!” whenever our spouse is human and doesn’t measure up to our expectations of what we should be getting out of the relationship.
That’s building your relationship on a sandy foundation. Instead, build it on YOUR ability to love. Love because it is worth it to love. Be kind because kindness is worth it. Forgive because forgiveness is the most beautiful thing in the whole world.