Why Rules?

class rules bulletin board
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lindah/113841605/">Linda Hartley</a>

Romans 4:13-25

The promise to Abraham, that he would inherit the world, didn’t come to him or to his descendents because by keeping rules. It came by making a commitment. If inheriting the world were a matter of keeping rules, commitment wouldn’t count for anything. Following rules only brings trouble. But if there are no rules, then you don’t have to worry about breaking them.

So it all depends your commitment. That way the promise is backed by a guarantee available to all Abraham’s children, not just the ones who follow the rules, but also those who make the same commitment Abraham made. And, since the sacred writing says, “I’ve made you the Father of the Nations,” Abraham is the father of us all. We all stand before Abraham’s God who brings revives the dead and makes something out of nothing.

Abraham took it to heart, even when there was no use hoping to be the Father of Nations, because God told him, “You’ll have scads of children.” He didn’t waver from his commitment even though his hundred year old body was as good as dead, and Sarah had never been able to get pregnant. He trusted what God said without flinching. In fact, the more he gave God credit, the deeper his commitment got. He was totally convinced God would do what God said. So, it was his commitment that made him right. And, when scripture says “his commitment made him right,” it wasn’t talking about just him. It was talking about us. If we commit to the proposition that God raised Jesus from the dead, you’ll be right, too. He was killed because we broke the rules, and raised so that we’d be made right.

At first, this all seems very libertarian. No rules, no worries about conforming. But it’s not.

Like any master of any art who can bend and break the rules, what allows them to go beyond the rules is their greater commitment to their art.

There are rules of grammar writers must generally follow to write well. But the masters, Shakespeare, Faulkner, e e cummings, Vonnegut, break the rules because they are committed to the art. They know the rules better than anyone. But they know more than the letter of the rules, they know the spirit of the art about which the rules speak.

Yo-Yo Ma plays the cello, and knows the rules that make the music what it is. But when he plays, it’s his commitment to the music that speaks, not the rules he knows.

So, too, the art of the life well lived. There are lots of rules that have been set out in holy writ. But the life well lived is not about following the rules, it’s about one’s commitment to the art. And, while rules may be helpful, they are not the purpose of the exercise, or the result we are ultimately seeking.

Learn the rules. Know the rules. Follow the rules. But don’t be committed to the rules. Be committed to the art.