There is a restaurant called Outback Steak House. This restaurant has an advertising slogan that says, “No rules, just right.” I find this to be an attractive slogan, and this essay will explain why. While I am not exactly sure what the restaurant owners mean by the slogan, I want to borrow the words and fill them with my own meaning.
In the Bible someone, perhaps King Solomon, wrote the following:
(1) There is an appointed time for everything.
And there is a time for every event under heaven—
(2) A time to give birth and a time to die;
A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.
(3) A time to kill and a time to heal;
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
(4) A time to weep and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance.
(5) A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing.
(6) A time to search and a time to give up as lost;
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
(7) A time to tear apart and a time to sew together;
A time to be silent and a time to speak.
(8) A time to love and a time to hate;
A time for war and a time for peace.
—Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, NASB
Is there really a time to mourn, to kill, to throw stones, to hate, to wage war? How would we know when it is time to experience these “negative” feelings and actions? Are they ever necessary? Are they necessary evils? Is evil ever necessary?
One of the men of the Old Testament part of the Bible, King David, committed adultery and murder. He was also called a man after God’s own heart. Did King David’s actions matter? Why is he still respected?
Let me offer a possible solution to these two problems or discrepancies. What matters is not the particular actions that we commit, but our orientation and motivation. Once we have the correct orientation towards God and the right motivation, then our particular actions, which are not even always under our control (“For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.” —Paul, Romans 7:19, NASB), become less important. Our orientation towards God should be one of love and submission. Our motivation should be love for God and love for all of God’s creation. Our motivation is like the rudder on a ship. It controls the direction that we are headed. If we are motivated by love, then when our sins are revealed to us, we will feel sorrow and repentance. But no matter how bad we think we have acted, we should not permanently dwell in sorrow or remorse. God forgives us for our imperfections and wants us to get up off the ground and not be held back by the past. All experiences can be useful learning experiences. Even if our actions have undesirable consequences, we don’t have to despair. We can face the consequences with God’s help and forgiveness. If we choose to be motivated by love for God, then God will inspire us to make better decisions with our lives, even if we don’t always live up to our own standards of thought and behavior.
Now let me return to the slogan, “No rules, just right.” I am offering the idea that if we are motivated by love for God, then we don’t have to follow other particular rules of behavior, and everything that we do will be right. But there is a catch. Do you know anyone who acts in a loving manner at all times? Inasmuch as we are not motivated completely by love for God, our actions cannot be called pure or right, even if we do everything that society’s rules tell us to do.
You may ask, to put forward an extreme example, “Is murder okay for someone who is motivated by love for God?” I would say that murder is not an end in itself, but if someone murdered me with misguided knowledge, something good can still come from it. The murderer might, by killing me, later come to repent for his actions and his life might be transformed. I don’t think it is God’s will for people to murder each other, but while people are imperfect in knowledge of God, God allows people to murder others and still gives them a chance to repent.
I believe that God is ultimately in control and guiding things, and that all things work together for good. Even if something appears to be purely evil, we can expect God to bring something good out of it. We are never justified in despairing. God knows our weaknesses, and does not expect us to reach perfection without some adventures.