Saturday, July 11, 2015

Obedience and Blessing

by: Emj

"Repeat after me...Obedience brings blessing, disobedience brings conflict."
The auditorium swelled with the voices of hundreds of teens blending the mantra into a single identity.
"Obedience brings blessing, disobedience brings conflict."

I wish I could have recognized how reductionist it was.  I wish I had realized how simplistic.  How half-true.  How old covenant.
I did not.  Instead, I did what the camp speaker had wanted.  I internalized it.  Wrapped my identity in it.  Found evidence for it.  Viewed every situation through the lens of this dichotomy.  And God, who is rich in mercy and who loved me so much, did not allow me to go for very long this way.  He didn't speak to me in a dream or give me a vision.  He would burn away the lies in the fires of experience.

It was a fall evening.  I was a new high schooler, and somehow my family had fallen into friendships with a group of families in our church which had jumped on the "I kissed dating goodbye" wagon. Having dealt more with the taunts of boys because of my weight than any seduction for their lust, I wasn't necessarily interested in the debate.  But I had found what my community considered the "right" view of dating, and that was enough for me.  So I sat with a group of junior high and high school girls.  We were all appropriately dressed.  The meal had been homemade.  The movie had been capturing our attention the whole time (motivated by the pending conversation afterwards.)

Plot: Girl and father live alone due to the tragic death of her mother years ago.  The girl is gorgeous (of course) and painfully (oh, sorry, I meant beautifully) innocent.  And most importantly, she's never kissed a boy.  The guys at school find out about this and place bets on who could get her to kiss him first.  The girl doesn't know this and when one of the boys asks her out, her dad says "No, darling, you can't go out with that boy. I'm protecting your purity."  In a rare moment of rebellion, she sneaks out of the house and goes to the basketball game with him anyway.  As he walks her home, he tries to kiss her.  And she makes like Joseph and flees the scene.  She tells her dad.  She cries in repentance realizing that she almost lost something she could never get back. But she learns her lesson and never ever does anything like that again.  She knows she was in danger and is so glad that her father kept her safe.  She never talks to a boy again.  Until the day she graduates from high school.  A very handsome boy notices her and they start hanging out.  Then they get married, because he was "God's Best" for her. The end.
Moral: Disobedience brings conflict.  Obedience brings blessing.

God rewards people who save their first kiss.  God rewards purity with a hot husband and a happy marriage.  You saved yourself.  You deserve a husband.  Those other people...of course their marriages are unhappy and their divorce rate is high and their lives are a mess.  They were disobedient!  And all good Christians know that disobedience brings conflict!

Were we so graceless as that?  Yes, we were. I was anyway. Has the Church so deeply buried the gospel in favor of this man-centered pharisee-ism? Some of it.

It is true that people are more careful with their theology than their words?  At least I hope so.

Does God bless us?  Oh yes.  Does it have anything to do with us?  Nope.  It has everything to do with His immense Grace.  Why do I know this?

Because contrary to the testimony of people who messed up and were blessed with good marriages anyway, I have a different story.  I "did everything right" and ended up breaking off my engagement. This mentality absolutely backfired on me.  The pride I had built into my life because of my rule keeping was an intense evidence that I didn't love God.  Instead, I was incensed when God "took away my fiancee" because to a large extent, I felt that I "deserved" a relationship.  I had waited.  I was pure. I was "serving God."  And yet, He is not a God who makes bargains with mere humans.

I wish at least that they had said, "Your superficial obedience will bring the blessing of God's breaking you until there is nothing left. Then you will long for nothing but Him.  It will be a horrific and painful process.  And it will happen again and again.  And you'll not enjoy it, but you'll enjoy Him."

Why did they paint the picture of blessing as if it was:
"A ridiculously fun college experience resulting in a degree,  a husband, a happy life of serving God in some prosperous ministry on the mission field with lots of happy, healthy, children who also go on to serve long as you constantly wear a skirt and refrain from swearing, alcohol, and tattoos throughout the whole experience."

Because the mantra that I learned at camp that summer and would repeat in my head like a broken record for months afterwards, doesn't give the whole picture.  It doesn't speak of grace.  It doesn't know the gospel.  It is, in fact, old covenant living.  Anti gospel preaching.

The truth is that obedience very often brings suffering.  And disobedience very often brings relief.  But this isn't the truest thing.  But when my world fell apart, I wished someone had told me that.  Or maybe someone did but my ears were so full of fundamentalist anti-grace sub-gospel preaching that I didn't have a category for grace.

What is truer than the mantra?
Jesus' obedience brings blessing, even to disobedient me. 

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