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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Obedience: The Ultimate Gordian Knot

What is obedience? Obedience is defined by the Oxford English dictionaries as, "compliance with an order, request, or law or submission to another’s authority."

Just underneath the Oxford online dictionary's definition of obedience are a few usages:

  • children were taught to show their parents obedience
  • obedience to moral standards 
  • observance of a monastic rule: vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience

As a parent I know first-hand that teaching obedience to children can be maddening at times. From current events we can derive that obedience to moral standards can be widely interpreted. In fact, I would hazard a guess that the majority of people on Earth would deem the observance of monastic rule to be peculiar, if not downright pointless.

The Rule of Law which typically is held up as our beacon for an orderly society, by definition, demands obedience from all citizens. Throughout history - especially recent - we have engaged in a tug of war over laws by and for the majority vs. laws by and for the minority. I could write for years on these subjects alone but that is not my purpose today.

Representation of a Gordian Knot

The legend, myth, fable, history (call it what you will) of the Gordian Knot comes to fruition in the 4th century BC when Alexander the Great arrives in Phyrgia and, in a bit of a slippery timeline, learns of a prophecy wherein the solver of the so-called Gordian Knot shall rule Asia. Encompassing eagles, ox-carts, various empires and oracles, the Gordian Knot has come to represent that which is unsolvable. In fact, the Gordian Knot has become so ingrained in our society that even those who may not know the original legend might certainly know it in a more modern guise:

Was Captain Kirk a cheater, or just creative?

I suspect college students from the late 1960's onward have tried to employ the Kobayashi Maru defense, when confronted with their own cheating, to little avail. It's doubtful that University ethics committees are Star Trek devotees.

If humanity will ever live together in harmony - and freedom - as a global society, there must be some set of laws that govern us. By definition, we - all of us - must be obedient to a common set of instructions (Pirates will think of them more as guidelines). According to the Roman statesman Cicero, "We are all servants of the laws in order that we may be free."

In the Gospel of John, Jesus seeks to illustrate the ultimate freedom to His followers:

So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” [John 8:31-32 (NASB)]

And further along, "So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed." [John 8:36 (NASB)]

Critics of Christianity will point out that having to follow a bunch of meaningless rules and customs that (they believe) are arbitrary and capricious is an impingement on their freedom, not to mention their free will. Heck all of us believe that about the speed limits, don't we? If we all had our way, the speed limit wouldn't be...

To infinity and beyond...

One of the most powerful examples of obedience in the Bible smacked me in the mouth this morning during my morning study. David had been anointed King in place of Saul (who had his own ideas about obedience) and after a time, had the opportunity to bring the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem. 

Didn't you guys ever go to Sunday School?

Apparently, the script writers for Raiders of the Lost Ark didn't go to Sunday School. Either that or they took some serious poetic license. The message from the movie was that basically the Ark could act as an army's own little portable Death Star - which is why Hitler wanted it. The facts are a little different - okay, A LOT different. In 2 Samuel 6, David takes thirty thousand of his chosen men and heads off to pick up the Ark of the Covenant and bring it back home to Jerusalem. They put the Ark on a new cart and during the ride the oxen threaten to tip the Ark over. A man named Uzzah reaches out to steady the Ark, places his hand on it, and BAM, he dies.

David gets his crank on about it and decides to leave the Ark right there, at the house of Obed-edom the Gittite (surely one of the happiest men in the Bible after this incident).

After a while, David cools his head and takes stock of what happened. In 1 Chronicles 15, we see that David finally does what he should've done in the first place and goes to get the Ark with the Priests and the Levites as God had originally instructed.
  • Exodus 25:14-15 - “You shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, to carry the ark with them. The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be removed from it."
  • Deuteronomy 10:8At that time the LORD set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the LORD, to stand before the LORD to serve Him and to bless in His name until this day.
And this brings us back to Obedience. David, Uzzah and everyone else either forgot or ignored God's instructions concerning transportation of the Ark of the Covenant. Whether we want to believe it or not, there is only one Holy being in the Universe, and that is God. He told Moses, and Moses told everyone else, "Don't touch the Ark or you will die."

No complicated rules or rituals there; if this, then that. Cause and effect. 

Obeying God is something we have to work at every single day. Even David, a man after God's own heart, had to be continually reminded of who God is and how He wants us to live. There are no shortcuts, no Alexandrian Solutions, no Kobayashi Maru, when it comes to seeking God's will and being obedient to His instructions.

Uzzah forgot that, and in a moment of perhaps unconscious reflex, he was disobedient. To our modern sensibilities that is horrible. But go back to the time of your childhood. Think about a rule that your parents gave you that, maybe, you didn't always adhere to. How about, "Don't cross the street without looking both ways."?

What were the possible consequences of (even unconsciously) breaking that rule? One would be a small child getting hit by a car and dying.

None of us wish for a child to die. David didn't wish for Uzzah to die. But both of these illustrations speak to the need for obedience. Remember Oxford's second usage that I noted above:

Obedience to moral standards...

I have heard people outraged by the cruelty of God - a God who would kill Uzzah just because he was trying to steady the Ark. When we try to wrap our modern moral interpretations around an immutable law, oftentimes it just doesn't compute. In fact, we don't even like the idea of immutable laws. Humans always look for the loophole; we try to find a reason why a particular rule should not apply to us. 

When questioned about his solution to the Kobayashi Maru test, (soon to be) Captain Kirk said, "I don't believe in no-win situations."

Sorry Jim; sometimes you just have to play by the rules.

What do you think?


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