A character on a TV show that I was watching the other day said something to the effect of “Doing the right thing is not the hardest thing. The hardest thing is knowing what the right thing to do is”. I don’t usually take philosophical or moral cues from fictional detectives (and I’m not sure if these words are always true) but this idea has been rolling around in my head lately. Some of the things that we took for granted a year ago (going to church, sending our kids to school, date night or a trip to the mall) now need a thoughtful decision, a plan and possibly a clean face covering. For every article that tells us that a high level scientific study has proven something to be correct, there are usually several others that will say the exact opposite. Our internal confirmation bias kicks in and we tend to interpret articles based on the conclusions that we have already decided. To add to the confusion, most of our news feeds are skewed towards giving us stories based on our previous interests, searches and the headlines we click on most often…kind of like a feedback loop. This means that we may not even be seeing the stories that could potentially challenge our preconceived ideas and beliefs.
As it happens, my journey through the Biblical story has me reading through the last few chapters of Leviticus today. A strange place to glean wisdom from and one I would probably prefer to skip but here I am. Leviticus lays out the very nitty gritty details of the Mosaic covenant law. As I understand it, God was setting up a covenant with Israel that would set them apart as His Holy people. He intended to separate them from all of the other surrounding nations. He did this by providing them with incredibly detailed and exhaustive rules for living and how to worship Him. There are laws about everything from animal sacrifices to types of acceptable clothing to sexual practices. Near the end of the book, after listing off all of these very specific rules and regulations, God says this: “If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees their fruit. Your threshing will continue until grape harvest and the grape harvest will continue until planting, and you will eat all the food you want and live in safety in your land.” (Lev. 26:3-5). That actually sounds pretty good…especially if you are living as a nomadic group of farmers in the second millennium BC. So…I’m not really a proponent of animal sacrifices and I freely admit that I find some of the rules to be downright bizarre (See chapter 15) ...But on some level I almost wish that we had a detailed rule book for life today: wouldn’t it be nice if we had an in-depth manual for how to navigate through the waters of COVID-19 without any ambiguity? I would also like a very clear list of what things to say that would or would not cause hurt or offend people. Wouldn’t it be nice to know that if we followed a list of specific rules, we would be blessed beyond measure…?
Most of us, however, are familiar with the terrible history of Israel and their multitude of failures and unfaithfulness to the covenant. Even with a perfect and divinely given set of laws, God’s holy and chosen people simply couldn’t live up to the standard that God had laid out. The burden of the law was too much to bear. It turns out that Israel needed something more...something deeper and greater. They needed a relationship, and they needed a rescue plan. In the person of Jesus humanity was ushered into a new covenant where we are no longer bound to keeping the Levitical law. Instead of a covenant that is based on a long list of do’s and don’ts we are invited into a relationship with the living God. This frees us from having to worry about which animals are considered clean (yay for bacon wrapped shrimp) and how closely my husband’s beard should be trimmed (have you seen him lately??).
This also means, though, that we have to rely on our God-given instincts and judgement. Sometimes the right thing to do is not abundantly clear or written out for us in bold capital letters. We have to make decisions with sound judgement and prayerfully trust that the Holy Spirit will guide us when we don’t know what to do. Instead of always having clear cut guidelines on, say, when and where to put on a face mask or whether to host a party, we are invited to ask ourselves whether or not this is the most loving thing that we can do for our neighbours. We can ponder whether our actions may or may not draw others towards a relationship with Jesus. The book of Micah tells us that the one thing that God requires of us is to “Act Justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God”. Do our actions promote justice and mercy? Do we ever allow pride to get in the way of our decision making? We are also invited to show grace, rather than judgement to others and to understand that their thought processes, priorities and even their news feed may not be exactly the same as ours.
I think the words of Paul to the Philippians speak to this better than I ever could:
“... if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2: 1-4)
Relationships are hard. We all know this. Sometimes it’s hard for me to trust honest words spoken by my husband when he speaks clearly and succinctly…let alone to trust in God whose voice is not always that easy to discern, especially when I don’t always want to hear what He is saying. But we are asked to do just that. We are invited to prayerfully consider our actions and to invite the Holy Spirit to guide us. This may be harder than following a rule book but it is ultimately, deeply and profoundly more rewarding.