Recently my five-year-old son fell into the swimming pool at a home we were visiting. I was very close by and immediately jumped in after him. I lifted him up and set him safely on the edge. As I stood there in the chest-deep water, hugging and scolding my son, I noticed the solemn look on his face. “What’s wrong, buddy? What are you thinking?” I asked. Barely lifting his hanging head, but with a quick glance at my eyes, he simply said, “You’re disappointed in me.” I cupped his face with my hands and gently said, “I’m not disappointed in you. The truth is . . . that scared me.”
I never told him to not fall in the pool. I did establish boundaries to caution him against getting too close to the edge. However, when his ball went in the water that was reason enough in his mind to violate those boundaries, and the very reason I gave him those boundaries became a reality. In a split second, he went from feeling in control to being in great danger.
Haven’t we all had moments like that? We respect the boundaries until we are presented with an enticing enough motive to cross the line. Often the danger is not immediately recognizable just across the line, so our resolve weakens as we question why the boundary was set where it was. We crumble completely once we arrive at the point where we begin to question the One who established the boundary in the first place.
If a teenager is told to not use drugs. She will typically not have issue with that until the day she is first presented with a real opportunity. Once she hears her peers describe the experience of a high, a seed will be planted. Once she recognizes there may be a reason to pop this or smoke that AND that danger is not immediately guaranteed, the door becomes open to questioning why she was ever told not to. She can then be convinced that her parents and teachers are truly just killjoys. At that point, she has no argument against crossing the line.
We see this drama unfold in the very beginning of the Bible with Adam and Eve. In Genesis 3, we see Eve transition from stalwart to rebel immediately upon being convinced that 1) there was some value in eating from the tree God said was off limits and 2) God’s reasons for banning the tree were questionable to begin with. It is in these moments that we are distracted by the rules themselves, and we forget about the relationship with the rule-maker and the boundary-setter.
When asked to prioritize the laws, Jesus said this could sum them all up: love God and love people. John wrote that we are motivated to love as a response to love, e.g. we love because God loved us first (1 John 4:19). Our love is a response to His love. So the logical conclusion is that God’s laws collectively demonstrate what love does and does not look like. We can also conclude then that God’s standards exemplify His character, because John also wrote “God is love” (1 John 4:8).
When my son fell in the pool I was maybe a little more than scared. I was frustrated that he didn’t trust me enough to obey me. I suppose I put God through the same experience more often than I care to admit. Paul wrote, “So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.” (Galatians 5:1). God wants us to be free from sin and it’s fallout, and His boundaries are good. They exist to keep us free, not to enslave us. But even when we fall in the pool, our Heavenly Father is there to lift us up and set us on the edge.