Love and Obey
Something happened when I was about eleven that still makes the hair on my neck stand up when I think about it. My dad kept a couple guns in the house. And he had taught me how to use one of the guns, a small 22 caliber rifle. He never failed to stress the rifle’s potentially lethal reality if handled improperly. He kept the rifle in his bedroom closet.
Like many boys I had a fascination with guns. But my dad had laid down the law that I was not old enough to shoot without adult supervision.
One day, a group of my friends and me were hanging out. There were a couple of new kids in our group and I wanted to impress them. My dad was gone for the day so I snuck in and grabbed the 22 rifle and a box of shells. We rode our bikes to a nearby pond where I demonstrated my gun prowess by shooting at pieces of wood and cans we threw in the water. The other boys were running around and throwing things in the water for me to shoot at. But in the midst of our reckless adventure, the gun jammed. I stepped back from the edge of the water, pointed the gun at the ground, and attempted to clear the jam. While focusing on the jammed bullet I didn’t notice I had raised the barrel of the gun. I also didn’t notice that two of my buddies had run to the edge of the water a few feet in front of me.
I still don’t know how it happened, but while trying to pry out the bullet, the rifle fired. Contrary to what you may have heard, everything did not happen in slow motion. In fact it all happened in hyper-speed. I felt sheer panic, the type of panic that shoots through your entire body and convulses your soul. I jerked my head up to see the tail end of the muzzle blast and the explosion where the bullet struck the surface of the pond. I felt sick as the realization hit home that the bullet had missed one of the boys in front of me by little more than a foot. The boy spun round with eyes wide with shock and fear.
Even at that immature age, I instantly knew that the other boy and I had narrowly averted a life-altering event. Still shaking, I quickly packed up the gun and went home where I stowed it back in my dad’s closet. I never told him about this incident.
In John 14 Jesus tells us at least three times that those who love him obey him.
Obedience is defined in part by yielding and submitting to another. It sounds simple. Yet I wonder if we often love and yield to the idea of Christ instead of Christ the person. I wonder if we live vicariously through the teachings and examples of Christ that feel good to hear, but obeying them . . . not so much.
I don’t have an easy answer. There’s disobedience in my life and I’ve witnessed a lot of disobedience in the lives of countless Christians. But as I sat musing about love and obedience it came to me that when I disobeyed my dad and took the rifle out of his closet, I was thinking and acting like an immature child (I know, duh!). But here’s the point: though I loved my dad I was not connecting the dots between loving him and obeying his rules. If my dad were alive today and told me to stay out of his closet, I would do so out of love and respect. Yes, yes, I know part of the reason for obedience is for our own protection against the hurts of the world. I get that. But perhaps Jesus is asking us in John 14 to grow up and mature so we can express our love in the most meaningful way—obedience.
By the way, I’ve noticed that obedience often entails a choice between something we really want and something we know God wants us to do, or not do. Only a mature love for Christ the person can prevail against our own desires.