Don’t Do the Things!
Take a second to read this little comic.
Step 1: Laugh. It’s a pretty funny piece of comedy.
Step 2: Ask yourself – is the primary takeaway from the Bible the instruction to “not do the things”?
Clearly, much of the story of the Bible is centered around commandments. Over and over again in the Pentateuch, God’s people are told to obey God and keep God’s commandments. In the Great Commission, Jesus tells the disciples to teach everyone to obey everything he commanded. There are many rules to follow.
But – are the most important rules the ones that tell us what not to do? And are rules the most important part of the Bible?
Rules and rule-following form the majority of the text, I would imagine. The Torah establishes rules, the writings show what happens when people try (and fail) to follow the rules in real life, and the prophets call people back to rule-following. Jesus’ ministry, even though it reimagines the rules, spends a lot of time reacting to and interpreting the rules. Acts and the epistles establish new rules to follow, based on the existing rules. This means that, for much of Christian and Jewish history, our theology has focused us on living moral lives according to the standards God has set. I would argue that this is necessary – morality is important for society to function correctly, and people who believe in God will express that morality in ways that reflect their beliefs. They will choose not to do some things – but they will also choose to DO other things.
The greatest commandments are not negative commandments, but positive ones. The first is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. It’s not a commandment to avoid loving false gods or to not love money or to not love doing bad things. It’s a commandment to do something right. The second commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself, two positive commandments tied up in one. When Micah tells Israel what they have to do to make things right before God, he gives them three commandments: Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God. All positive commandments, all focused on doing what’s right instead of not doing what’s wrong.
When Isaiah calls the Israelites back into compliance with God’s law, he says, “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” In this list of commandments, there are two negatives: remove evil doings from God’s eyes, and cease to do evil. That falls into the category of “not doing the things” to be sure. But the followup is to start doing good. And maybe here we have a good way to understand what the TL;DR version of the Bible should look like. Not only are we to “not do the things,” but we are then supposed to “do the OTHER things”, the good things! The church is not a museum of good people, it’s a hospital for bad people trying to heal themselves and become better. We’re not trying to be perfect, we’re trying to make this world more like the kingdom of God – a place of good things.
TL;DR – “Stop doing the things, do the other things instead, it’ll be nicer for everyone.” Isaiah 1:16b-17a