Lawgiver, or Friend?

Lest this seem to come out of nowhere, I want to flesh our an idea that we talked about in worship this morning, as we continued our journey through the New Testament letter 1 John:

Have you ever thought about how you mentally frame God’s commandments?  The language of “command” automatically starts our minds down a specific pathway, one where God makes the rules and hands them down to us, and we receive them and follow them or else.  And…there is something of that pathway that we need to take seriously.  God is Sovereign, and is the one who establishes the code of conduct he desires from his people.  These aren’t the Ten Suggestions, and this isn’t the first step in a negotiation.

And yet…might we also need to notice that God has something like a “dual role” with his people?  Consider that in the introduction of his first letter, John writes:

that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:3 ESV)

The tone of that passage is very different from the thought-world of God as Commandment-Giver, isn’t it?  Fellowship is the translation of koinonia, a word which speaks of close relationship and sharing, mutuality and partnership – and this is the word John uses to describe the relationship he has (and his readers can have) with the Father and the Son.  So, what do we do with the tension between these two ways of understanding God?

Most commonly, people resolve the tension by disregarding one side or another.  Some try to explain away one of the two sides, but others simply “forget” one side, and frame God as either Stern Lawgiver or Welcoming Friend.

Why can’t God be both?

In the third chapter, John’s description of the Divine-human relationship resumes:

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. (1 John 3:1 ESV)

This image is the resolution of the tension between Lawgiver and Friend.  What’s more, I think it reveals the desire of God for the ongoing movement of his relationship with us.  Within the parent-child relationship, there is intended and expected hierarchy, and there is mutuality.  There is (at least at the beginning of the relationship) a clear expectation of superiority of understanding and wisdom, and there is tender-heartedness, and the hope that maturation will bring friendship between the parent and the child.

So it is, that God gives commands, because he loves us as children, and knows the world (and us) better than we do, and wants the very best for us.  In fact, God knows the world and us perfectly, and God’s commands are given in light of that knowledge.  God’s commands (and I do not soften the authoritative force of that word in any way) are also invitations into a quality of life which God desires for us and with us as we enter into ever-deepening koinonia with him.  The commands do not cease to be commands, but as we mature, perhaps we begin to understand the heart behind them.  When God gives us commands, he gives them out of love, and out of the desire that through following them we will be able to relate to God in more mature ways.

I am blessed that I am able to think of my father and mother as friends.  I cannot recall if the idea really occurred to me when I was 11 (like my oldest son is now); even if it did, I surely did not imagine the depth of our relationship today.  At 11, most of our relationship was still governed by the rules of the household which they set down; I cannot think of the last time one of my parents felt the need to identify a command for me to follow.  Some of this is because I have internalized the rules of my parents’ household, and they have become an invisible part of our relationship – might this correspond to the Jeremiah prophecy of the new covenant?

I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jeremiah 31:33 ESV)

God’s commands may remind us that God is Sovereign and we are not, but they should not be a burden which we rail against.  At the same time God rules over us, he loves us, and offers us the best path to wholeness and maturity, both within ourselves and in our relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit who have invited us into their fellowship.  Lawgiver and Friend.

So, what am I leaving out of this conception?  What have I missed?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Night On The Town

So, I noted on Facebook tonight that I had an interesting experience at Toys R Us:

Zach and I went to Toys R Us to buy a video.  From the moment one walks in the door of our local Toys R Us, there are prominent signs inviting shoppers to make donations to support Autism Speaks.  As we waited in the check-out line, I noticed additional flyers taped to the cash registers and counters encouraging donations through the cashiers.  We were third in line, and Zach was doing the things Zach usually does while he waits: he bobbed and danced around, tried to get me to buy him M & M’s, and periodically dropped hints that we should be done waiting in line.  Zach has a unique way of enunciating single words with the aim of motivating the listener to immediate action.  He says the word clearly, with an intensity that starts in the middle of the word and then builds through the end of the word, communicating intensity – “ride” means “it is time to go ride in the car RIGHT NOW”; “car” means…well, it means the same thing.  So, here in the Toys R Us line, he kept saying “ride” and “bag,” as in “put my video in a bag so we can go RIDE in the CAR.  NOW.”  He wasn’t being particularly difficult about any of this, or invading anyone else’s personal space, but it was constant movement and/or sound, which is normal for Zach.

As we waited, I noticed that the cashier had a list of questions for the person in front of the line, which she asked with little enthusiasm: “Do you need a gift receipt?  Do you need to buy any batteries today?  Do you want to make a donation to support autism?  Do you want your receipt in the bag?”  When that customer was finished, the next customer got exactly the same list of questions.

Then it was our turn.  “Do you need a gift receipt?” No. “Do you need to buy any batteries today?” No. “Do you want your receipt in the bag?” No.  And I noticed, no invitation to make a donation to support autism.  No change in the enthusiasm or empathy level, but a change in the question routine.  And as we began to move for the exit with our video in hand, I could plainly hear the questions for the next customer: “Do you need a gift receipt?  Do you need to buy any batteries today?  Do you want to make a donation to support autism?  Do you want your receipt in the bag?”

So, what to make of this?  I joked about it on Facebook, and I do think it is a little bit funny.  Zach may have done a little bit to help raise money for autism in those 10 minutes.  If he had been more irritable (which happens sometimes) he might have hurt the cause, I don’t know.

But I’ve got another thought on this, too.  Maybe I, a dad with a son who plainly has autism, want to give to support autism research. Certainly it’s true that living with autism has had a financial cost (to speak only of the currency in mind in this transaction), but aren’t there breast cancer survivors who do the Komen walk for the cure, and raise and donate more money besides?  Don’t lots of people find ways to give generously to the causes that touch them most personally?  So why would the cashier pass up this opportunity to invite me to do the same?

I’m not sure (and I’m not offended or mad, either, to be clear).  Maybe the thought is that I  might already give in more intentional ways than a quick hit at the check-out.  Or maybe she felt awkward asking me to give while Zach was being so insistent about moving on.  I don’t know.  However, I do know that one of my favorite things is not standing out just because my sons have autism; being just part of the crowd is nice sometimes.  I know that many people with other special needs or disabilities express that they feel the same way.  They don’t want special rules or concessions.  If they need them, they’ll probably ask for them, and then they hope you’ll be ready to help.  And in that way, they’re/we’re pretty much just like everyone else.

Movies About Board Games 2: Electric Boogaloo

Had to share:

Television Without Pity wrote about the creative abandoned well that is movies made about board games more than 2 years ago!  And, the Battleship movie was the first on their list, already in production.  Well, since it took that long to make, it’s got to be good, right?

My favorite part was noting that Real Steel bears some resemblance to another table game, and the list of board game movies that were supposedly in production at that time.  Still waiting for Ridley Scott’s Monopoly

And, I’m a little bit sad that only one of you has taken on the challenge I’ve thrown down.  Here, I’ll make it easier:  What would a movie based (or not based, as is the case with Battleship) on “Sorry” look like?  Go to it!

Beyond Aware

It’s World Autism Awareness Day.  I have two sons with forms of Autism.  At least one of their doctors along the way thinks I “could have been diagnosed”, if they were diagnosing Asperger’s Syndrome in the 1970’s.

I don’t feel like I really have anything to say, though.

Do you ever think about a segment of time and come to the conclusion that the segment of time seemed to have gone by very quickly, and yet in another way, very slowly?  I feel that way sometimes about the 7 years that have gone by in which my family has had autism as part of our identity.  I feel like I still know very little about autism, and yet I know a great deal more than I did then.  What I did not know was how large the field of experience and understanding related to autism is: what I thought was a field (to use the same word a different way, which is endlessly amusing to some with autism, and endlessly irritating to others) is a prairie, far bigger than I ever imagined, and more diverse.

I know a lot about my kids.  I understand Zach better than I used to, and am able to enter into life on his terms much more easily than when we started.  I’ve always understood Josh much better – he and I are very much alike (and perhaps are on the same end of the spectrum, if we are there at all), and his reactions are often self-evident to me.  However, this also means, increasingly as he gets older, that I am more frustrated with him when I see him doing less than he is capable of – especially if it is a way of failing that I, too, struggle with.  I know this is common for parents of neuro-typical kids, and this is something we share.

What do I know about Autism, though?  That’s less clear.  I know Autism is real.  I know Autism looks different in every person, but that after a while, you can recognize it pretty quickly.  I know that Autism tends to dominate whatever relational space it inhabits, and it takes a lot of work for that not to be the case.   I know that Autism requires the people who interact with it to be flexible.  I know that people with Autism can be as smart, as funny, as kind, as athletic, as loving, as fragile, as human as anyone else.

And I know that Autism is not going away.  So, while a day like World Autism Awareness Day is a quaint idea, if you live in America and aren’t aware of Autism by now, you’re probably every lawyer’s dream juror.  It’s time to go past being aware of Autism, and on to figuring out how to integrate the people and families with Autism who are part of your social networks.  They need it, and its likely that your life is going to be richer, if not neater and easier, for it.