As I write this, the whole country has been spared covid level 5 restrictions and has instead gone to level three. The two utterly predictable reactions to this decision are 1) Thank goodness! We cannot be locked down forever; people need to live, but also need a livelihood. And 2) those morons who are not following the rules are to blame! They should be punished, not the rest of us law-abiding citizens. More enforcement!
I freely confess I’m relieved level 5 was averted. It seems to be that locking everything and everyone down would only compound the difficulties, not reduce them. But I get it: some people are rule-followers and – whatever the source of the rules – they place a lot of stock in obeying those rules. And of course we need rules, guidelines and agreed norms of behaviour to be sure society works. Without rules and regulations there’d be anarchy.
You could call them the clampy-downies – folks whose knee-jerk reaction to a crisis (sometimes to anything at all) is to enact policies and procedures, to clamp down hard on any dissent or misbehaviour. Contrast them to the free-uppies; those who default to each person making his or her own choice about their actions whenever possible. In my work and in my life I freely admit I’ve grown weary of clampy-downies; those who default to the rules, the book, the guidelines, the whatever, make me sweat with frustration. At work in particular, it has become more productive to let folks make their own choices as much as possible (even when those choices look bad to me) and to enjoy the benefits or face the consequences of their own decisions.
Jesus was critical of people who followed the rules for the sake of following rules. Get a load of His words to the Pharisees – the ultimate rule-followers! – in Matthew 23.23:
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.
Scripture is replete with references to the law, to rules and regulations, and the heart. Here’s a tiny taster:
I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!
Jesus seems to be saying there are weightier, more important things than the law and Paul seems to say that if we could gain God’s favour through the law – by following a set of rules and regulations – then Jesus’ death was invalid. It seems to me that Jesus was far more interested in our hearts, our choices, our relationships with Him and with each other and with love, than he was with “the rules.”
Or how about this snippet from Paul in II Corinthians 3.17:
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
Sure, it’s easier to follow a list of regulations than it is to relate to someone – to God, even – in love and freedom. The rules are clear, they’re black and white, they’re easy to assess: am I obeying them or not? And there are certainly guidelines – commands even – in the scripture that cannot be ignored.
Freedom in Christ is more subjective, but more important in the Kingdom. Freedom offers a wider berth for mistakes and missteps, and is also harder to track, slipperier. Scripturally speaking, freedom also gets a resounding endorsement.
Disagree with me if you will, but I’m a free-uppy and happy to admit it.