Obedience is not a word we hear very often. Unless you train puppies or work for ISIS, which is possibly the only time those will appear in the same sentence. Obedience to us generally has overtones of either military law, or strict discipline of religious fundamentalists – basically being forced against your will to do things you wouldn’t usually do. And train puppies.
Enough with the puppies.
Except we practice obedience all the time. Driving on the left, putting out the bins, banishing unhealthy thoughts, not leaving the toilet door open. Sometimes its explicit obedience, sometimes it’s implicit in our relationships, and we don’t think of it as ‘obedience’ – but it is.
God demands and commands our obedience. There. I’ve said it. It sounds harsh doesn’t it. It is, if our view of God is that of a overly strict demon headmaster, or an obnoxious shouty military general, or we’ve experienced domestic violence and live our life being forced to be obedient for fear of the consequences.
This is not my understanding of the God I am obedient too. The God I believe in is a God intertwined in families and their story, helping and guiding and leading, who demands obedience at the same time as trust, for whom the overriding image is that of a shepherd in the Judean desert wilderness, whose sheep obey his voice because they know he will keep them safe.
There are times when obedience will bring us into conflict with others. Conflicts of priorities in our families, workplaces and elsewhere, conflicts of ethics and morals. But obedience to God isn’t like being watched by the Thought Police. Obedience to God is an obedience characterised by how it changes our actions, not controls our minds. And being obedient doesn’t mean being obnoxious to those we may be in conflict with.
Jesus did not say do as I say or you will be damned. Believe it or not. He said, the greatest commandment is to love God, with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, then to love your neighbour as yourself. He said a new commandment I give to you, to love one another. This isn’t soppy sentimental love, this is deep rooted love, borne out in actions of service to each other. A faithful love that endures through thick and thin.
We don’t obey because we are told to, but because we love. We aren’t faithful out of fear, but because we love. We believe that our God is a model of sacrificial, self-giving love, so obedience to him takes us there too. Which is not easy, or glib, but it does ground us in enduring obedience. Which, yes, sometimes means obeying through gritted teeth and enduring it. And other times means our obedience – or faithfulness – is enduring, faithful, long-lasting and resilient.
That’s where I want to be.
During Lent in our church we are looking at the theme of Enduring Obedience, exploring characters such as Sarah, Ruth, Daniel and Jonah from the Bible, and people like St Teresa of Avila and Martin Luther King Jr who inspire us with their obedient service to God.