People talk a lot about being "obedient" to God, doing what we feel He wants us to do, even when we don't feel like doing it. This is living up to a standard, keeping within a certain boundary, faithfully netting out small habits and flaws that would in some way go against the ten commandments. This morning I've been thinking about "obedience" in a new way. When our children are very small, they need to obey us in order to stay safe. They learn to stay away from busy streets, avoid touching hot things, and generally learn to stay out of danger. As they grow, we teach them obedience in the smaller things that help them get along better in--and give more to--the world. They learn manners, respect, faith, charity, and compassion. As they grow to adulthood, our expectations of their "obedience" fade away as we recognize that the lessons they needed (first to stay safe, and then to live a good life) are now internalized in them, part of their thinking, knowing, and living process.
Many people think of God as a judge, a great omnipotent being who see our every mistake, knows our every flaw, and plans--sometimes by bringing pain and hardship to us--to net out those unsavory characteristics so that we might be perfect one day like Him. I think of God as an all-loving Father, One who loves us with a perfect, endless, all-encompassing love that is beyond what we we can fathom. Our obedience to Him is not a prerequisite for His love; in fact, our obedience isn't for Him at all--it's for us. By listening to Him and faithfully applying what we hear, we learn what it feels like to walk with Him at the center of our hearts. This reduces our guilt (and the separation that comes as a result of it) and enables us to allow more of His love in. By obeying the sense and essence of His message, we gradually trust Him enough to allow His healing light to illumine all the hurting places inside us that so need it. By keeping within the parameters we are given (no other idols, love our neighbor, put God first), we stay safe and learn to live a good life in Him.
I believe there's another stage beyond obedience when much of the self-training is done and the lessons of Love are internalized in us. That's where we enter an adult partnership with God, sharing in His work, working side-by-side with Him, full of His spirit and sure of His love. We no longer need to focus on "obedience" because we understand. We know. We live immersed in His love. We can throw away that picture of God as a judge with a big shoe, waiting to squish us for saying or doing the wrong things. We are no longer children. We can stand up tall, look Him straight in the eye (whether we find that eye in a flower, a loved one, a piece of music, or even a storm), and tell Him that we love Him. Not because we're afraid of doing otherwise, but because we mean it.