I have a loose form of legalism, a sort of rigidity in my morality that isn’t working. What I struggle with, and what I think many struggle with, Christian or no, is turning principles into solid laws. The problem is that principles and truths are more pliable that we would like them to be. They are ever the same, yet always in flux.
It’s a kind of freedom I don’t feel capable of handling. Sometimes I think that I’d rather be stifled in exchange for knowing the answer. Many might think it’s a blessing to think through things and to push for truth, but it’s a kind of curse, too. Emily Dickinson said:
“How do most people live without any thought? There are many people in the world—you must have noticed them in the street, —how do they live? How do they get the strength to put on their clothes in the morning?”
I cannot live like an automaton, but I can hardly find the time to do what I need to do because my mind is spent with thoughts.
I fell into a dangerous trap that Josh Harris labels “reducing to one practice”. When you fall into that pattern of thinking, it’s easy to incorporate a feeling of righteousness into everyday activities. This goes beyond eating or drinking to the glory of God and turns into piety.
“If we elevate a single practice and invest it with the authority of biblical principle, we can place a rule or burden on people that isn’t actually commanded in God’s Word.”
This can happen with any belief system or moral framework; it’s not limited to Christianity. If I believe that loyalty, something most of us believe is good and true, and categorize each of my actions toward a friend as loyal or disloyal, I’m participating in this single practice.
While none of my actions are legitimately neutral, (if we’re thinking in terms of a moral world that it set up like binary), I can still inadvertently shove “always listening to a friend in a time of need” as a loyal action, turning it from a principle into a rule.
Then, in my static view of the world, if I am faced with an instance where it would be more loyal to not listen and then not enable, I have made it difficult to reconcile my actions to my sense of morality.
When I am not dynamic and critical in my thoughts, I cannot do right or good for very long. If I view love as something that always tries and pushes and works persistently, then how can I comprehend knowing when it turns into groveling that only serves to feed another’s ego?
Any principle of ethics or morality ceases to be such when I reduce it to one practice and hold it there in the iron grip of my mind.
P.S. I want to give credit to my friend Karen, as our conversation the other day instilled these thoughts in my mind, and I want to give credit to my friend Timothy at the Creative Juicer for helping me with the title.