“Oh no,” he confidently asserted. “Your pressure would have to be over 50 for that to happen, and you would be throwing up by now.”
I looked at him and said, “I’ve been at 70 before without symptoms.” I am not sure he believed me until he went to the next hall over and pulled my other file, the four inch thick one with more notes than he had probably seen on any six patients put together. He read for several minutes and discovered that the obvious course of action for most patients is the worst course for me, and quietly took my pressures. They were indeed high. If nothing else, that day he learned that not all patients follow the rules.
We can be a little like that inexperienced young doctor when it comes to following God’s law. We so badly want it all spelled out in black and white for every situation life hands us--it’s so much easier than having to think and examine our hearts. That’s why we who have led sheltered lives, perhaps growing up in the church as second, third, or even fourth generation Christians who have never had a drink, never let a bad word slip, and never even considered breaking one of the “big” commandments, can be so judgmental about others who still struggle every day. A young Christian who came from a rough background recently said to me, “People in the church look down on me when I talk about battling sin. They say if my faith is genuine, it shouldn’t be that way.” We carry our rule books, measuring everyone around us, instead of using the sense God gave us, and the love and encouragement he expects of us.
Rule Book people have another problem as well. Despite their protestations of having a true faith because it does so many works, many never truly believe in the grace of God. Some of these poor misguided people worry themselves silly wondering whether they are truly saved. They second-guess every decision they make; they are never confident that they are doing well. Someone has forgotten to read John’s first epistle to them, which he wrote “so you may know you have eternal life,” 1 John 5:13.
Finally, those folks work so hard to get every little detail right that they often miss the point of the commandment they are trying to follow. The Pharisees are the ultimate example. Even though they began with the simple and righteous desire to follow God’s law exactly, they eventually reached the point that they totally missed the focus of the Law. It became a study of minutiae instead of concept. I once read a bit of one their documents discussing the passage, “I meditate on thee in the night watches,” (Psa 63:6). The point of the passage is to be thinking on spiritual things all through the day and night, but the next four pages were devoted to various rabbis’ arguments about how many night watches there were so they could be sure to meditate exactly that many times! That is what happens when you focus only on the rules and never the heart. Surely none of us wants to be in a group Jesus called “a brood of vipers.”
Do not misunderstand me. I believe God has a set of laws He expects us to follow to the letter, but life is not always simple. Sometimes a situation arises that is not cut and dried. We have to actually think about what the right course of action is and make the best possible decision. Sometimes what I feel is right for me may not be what you feel is right for you. It is not situation ethics. It is simply a place where God has not spelled things out, but has left us as His children to pray and meditate, and make a decision from a heart of love and good intentions, and then to trust His grace if we have made a mistake. To do otherwise, or to simply do nothing, would be the sin, and to judge otherwise, would be the self-righteousness Jesus despised.
And he spoke also this parable unto certain who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and set all others at naught: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank you, that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all that I get. But the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote his breast, saying, God, be merciful to me a sinner. I say unto you, This man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one who exalts himself shall be humbled; but he who humbles himself shall be exalted, Luke 18:9-14.