By Lori F. There’s usually a very short space of time between a parent telling a child she can’t do something and the child asking “why not?” Children aren’t the only ones interested in reasons. In my own life, I’ve pondered about the “why” of various commandments, and particularly about why God gives commandments to us at all.
Some people compare commandments to guardrails–structures that keep us from driving off the road into danger. That makes a certain kind of sense, but I can also imagine an objection: if I’m driving a steep mountain road with a dangerous cliff on one side, I’ll be driving with care, knowing how important it is to keep from going over the edge. In the face of such circumstances, I can rely on myself–I don’t need a railing to urge caution, and a railing won’t be enough to save me if I’m reckless.
For me, the analogy that explains the need for God’s commandments is a minefield. The terrain in front of me could be anything, and a safe path through it won’t be obvious. In fact, in a minefield, there’s nothing to indicate that there are dangers at all, and that’s the most dangerous thing about it. One minute I might be walking along, making my own choices, and the next I could be deafened by a blast wave and losing more blood than I knew I had. Before entering that terrain, I need a map that will help me choose my path, and commandments are components in that map.
The commandments that we have from God have various purposes. Some commandments warn of harm we could do to ourselves. Some are there to prevent us from harming people around us, which can harm us as well, by changing our natures in a negative way. Some commandments are designed to help us develop Christ-like characteristics. I’m particularly aware of commandments that counsel me to avoid anything that might create an addiction, from nicotine to painkillers to pornography. Those commandments preserve my freedom to choose. If I lose that freedom through addiction, my life loses some of its meaning.
Above all, commandments are designed to bring me safely through–not to shelter me or prevent me from learning by experience. There is a road I need to travel, and without a map I have no idea of all the ways I could bring disaster down upon myself. Being able to have insights about hazards in my path is a precious gift.
Reflecting on some of the darkest times in my life, I can see that I ended up where I was by disregarding the map of the hazards. Life provides plenty of opportunities for suffering, without our seeking them out by wandering around in the minefield, heedless of its dangers. I’m grateful for the direction the commandments provide. Although my life may not depend on this map, the quality of my life certainly does.
If I’m ever tempted to feel that the commandments are limiting me, I reflect on Christ’s invitation, “Come, follow me.” He’s not trying to spoil my fun or keep me ignorant. He wants everlasting joy for me; He wants to bless me with boundless knowledge. His commandments can insure that I stay in control and moving forward, so that those aims can be realized. Because He has drawn the map He knows the way. He is the way. I can trust in his promise that he can lead me safely home.