Saturday, 9 May 2009

Love and laying down the law

One of the tensions I struggle with as a Christian and a parent is the relationship between rules and love. No one likes rules and there is something in us that wants to hit out and react when someone tells us we can’t do something. It’s like the sign that says “Don’t touch, wet paint!” There is something in us that just wants to reach out and do the exact opposite to what the sign says. So when it comes to bringing up children, for example, and we lay down certain rules that we believe will help keep them on the straight and narrow or that will be ‘good’ for them, we are not entirely surprised when they break them or baulk at being confined by a list of don’ts.

And yet how else can we teach them what is right or wrong, or what is harmful and helpful, or what we want them to do in order to avoid the pain that comes from playing with fire or sharp objects? Rules become a means of expressing love, just as God’s ‘rules’ or ‘words’ were meant as an expression of His love.

Okay I know that in some way the Ten are no longer written on stone but on the hearts of the beloved. And we all know (or perhaps we don’t) the Blessed Augustine’s dictum: “Love and do what you will” meaning that if we do love God what we do will not break His laws or His heart. But how else do you help your children if not by laying down guidelines for living that will help them avoid the same mistakes that you made and paid (and are still paying) for? Surely to love is to set boundaries? Not to love is to let them do whatever they want in the hope that they will find out the hard way before it’s too late.

It’s a dilemma I suspect that will never be worked out as long as there are people and as long as there is sin present in this beautiful and blighted world we live in. Every parent is doomed to tread the same path and face the same challenges and fail or succeed in equal measure and discover in the process that there is no magic formula or method that will guarantee success. Maybe that’s why Jesus talks so much about forgiveness and love, because he knows that we will need the both if we are to get through.

So for now there are rules and the certainty that they will be broken from now until the end of time. I am sure God knew that and gave us Ten anyway.

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