God in his wisdom decided to give us all ‘free will’. We have a conscience and can make choices that affect our lives. Many of these choices will be influenced by our conscience and what we see to be right for us at the time.
So, how then does our conscience determine what is right for us and/or what might do us harm. Our conscience is constantly being manipulated by those around us, by our living and working environment and by what we have already experienced about life.
We are all being challenged by secularisation. What is generally accepted by society as the norm is often the main determining factor behind many of our decisions. Some might say that if we have a deep-rooted understanding of right and wrong stemming from our upbringing, that this will guide us in our conscience decision making.
However, sometimes as we watch our parents, those in authority or leaders in our churches, we see a contradiction in what they say as against what they do. Unfortunately, this can be most confusing and can be the catalyst that affects our actions.
Secularisation was obviously happening as the Jews were worshiping false Gods while Moses was up on a hillside receiving the 10 Commandments. These were the rules God gave Moses by which his people should live.
In simple terms, over the years it became obvious these rules would not be acceptable to many and so, God sent us Jesus to save the world.
Jesus had a very different approach. Rather than stipulating and forcing on us rules that must be followed, He used stories to enable his followers and others he met to determine within themselves, right from wrong.
Jesus spoke of love and summarised the 10 Commandments as the total love of God and of our neighbour as ourselves. He emphasised this by the story of the Good Samaritan after which he asked the listeners to question themselves who was the neighbour in the story. At no point did He condemn those who deliberately bypassed the sick Samaritan as He was allowing the listeners to determine for themselves the answer.
Jesus also was present when the convicted prostitute was about to be stoned. Suggesting that whoever was without sin might cast the first stone. He didn’t condemn the potential stone throwers. I feel sure they would have gone away thinking about their own lives and how they might be better persons. Nor did Jesus condemn the convicted prostitute who he referred to as a sinner but he allowed her the opportunity to change her life as well.
The contrast between the Covenant made with Moses and the New Covenant made by Jesus at the Last Supper is very different. With Moses there was a list of rules to which the followers had to abide. With Jesus, He was to suffer and die and promised to be with us forever. When we knocked, he would answer. If we asked, He said we would receive. He told us we could come to the Father through Him and he would ask the Father to send us the ‘Helper’ to assist us throughout our life.
As a Christian church, our teaching revolves about a definite delineation between right and wrong. Break the rules and you are a sinner. We often grew up fearing our God as being a harsh judge. ‘Thou shalt not…’ followed the 10 Commandments concept, the Catechism gave us the rules and the regulations. And so, the Church’s teaching embedded itself into our consciousness.
What happens when one becomes disillusioned as those that make the rules break the rules and continue in their authoritarian way of life? Confusion reigns. Questions creep into one’s conscience. Why should one believe all these rules that we are told we have to follow or be damned?
Hence, we see so many Christians feeling disinclined to continue going to Church because they are just not sure whether what the Church teaches really needs to be obeyed. As for what the consequences might be for bypassing the ‘rules’ – well it seems it is OK for some to get away with it, so why should we be concerned if we stretch the ‘rules’ a little.
If the church were to follow the Jesus style, then the rules and definitions of good and bad should certainly be there to which we should all aspire. It would be a form of ‘Best Practice’ for which we should spend our life trying to achieve. Knowing we are all unable ‘to throw the first stone’ then we shouldn’t be condemned but welcomed into the church where we can be encouraged to understand for ourselves what God wants of us. Jesus had meals with sinners and didn’t discriminate. “Come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest”. “Come as you are, that’s how I want you”. Welcome same sex partners, those who have had abortions, those living together outside of marriage, those who have become disillusioned with God. All should be welcome in God’s house.
Jesus said we needed to become as little children to enter into the kingdom of heaven. As little children we can rely totally on our God to guide us and help our conscience start making decisions based on what God wants of us rather than what we might want for ourselves. “Allow the little children to come unto me”, said Jesus. Surely then this is for our Church to realise that this is what God wants us to do.
Maybe there is too much emphasis put by the Church on ’whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained’. Maybe it is more the responsibility of the Church to be compassionate rather than condemn. Perhaps we should let God be our final judge and in the meantime as Church we should welcome anyone and everyone into our community, so we might all help and support each other to aspire towards the perfection of the 10 Commandments Best Practice.
I’m Peter Mack and that’s how I feel.