Summary: A couple of passages from "The Shack" have sparked the question, "How do rules and relationship interact in our relationship with God?"

Galatians 3:1-14 January 11, 2009

Rules and Relationship

How many of you have read “The Shack?”

The Shack is a novel about a man who had suffered great tragedy in his life, and is invited to spend a weekend with God.

I read it this summer, on holiday.

For the most part, I liked it, I’m not sure I would give it the glowing review that Eugene Peterson did, but I think it’s worth reading. It isn’t a theology textbook, or a spirituality guidebook, but it will give you some images and some ideas about God to run back to the Bible with, so it’s worth the read. – warning – it is not high literature and it could have benefited from a good editor. It is also good to remember that when God speaks in the Shack, it is not God speaking, but what the author thinks God would say.

There were a couple of passages in the book where I thought that Young opened up a topic, and then missed something in the discussion that ensued. Two of those passages lead me to think that I should create a series around the topic.

Here is one of the passages. Mack, the main character is having a conversation with the Holy Spirit, or Sarayu as she likes to be called in the book. They are in a canoe.

Mack allowed his oar to turn in his hands as he let it play in the water’s movements. “It feels like living out of relationship—you know, trusting and talking to you—is a bit more complicated than just following rules.”

“What rules are those, Mackenzie?”

“You know, all the things the Scriptures tell us we should do:’

“Okay…” she said with some hesitation. “And what might those be?”

“You know:’ he answered sarcastically. “About doing good things and avoiding evil, being kind to the poor, reading your Bible, praying, and going to church. Things like that.”

“I see. And how is that working for you?”

He laughed. “Well, I’ve never done it very well. I have moments that aren’t too bad, but there’s always something I’m struggling with, or feeling guilty about. I just figured I needed to try harder, but I find it difficult to sustain that motivation’

“Mackenzie!” she chided, her words flowing with affection. “The Bible doesn’t teach you to follow rules. It is a picture of Jesus. While words may tell you what God is like and even what he may want from you, you cannot do any of it on your own. Life and living is in him and in no other. My goodness, you didn’t think you could live the righteousness of God on your own, did you?”

“Well, I thought so, sorta…” he said sheepishly. “But you gotta admit, rules and principles are simpler than relationships.”

“It is true that relationships are a whole lot messier than rules, but rules will never give you answers to the deep questions of the heart and they will never love you.”

Dipping his hand in the water, he played, watching the patterns his movements made. “I’m realizing how few answers I have.., to anything. You know, you’ve turned me upside down or inside out or something:’

“Mackenzie, religion is about having the right answers, and some of their answers are right. But I am about the process that takes you to the living answer and once you get to him, he will change you from the inside. There are a

lot of smart people who are able to say a lot of right things from their brain because they have been told what the right answers are, but they don’t know me at all. So really, how can their answers be right even if they are right, if you understand my drift?” She smiled at her pun. “So even though they might be right, they are still wrong.”

“I understand what you’re saying. I did that for years after seminary. I had the right answers, sometimes, but I didn’t know you. This weekend, sharing life with you has been far more illuminating than any of those answers:’ They continued to move lazily with a current.

This conversation made me ask, “what is the relationship between rules and relationship, or in more theological terms, between grace and holiness?

How does the relationship shape how we behave, and how does how we behave shape our relationship?

To tackle those questions, in the next few weeks, I’m going to lead us through a few passages in Paul’s letter to the Galatians and to the Romans. And hopefully we will find some answers together.

The questions that Paul was answering might have been different than the ones that Mack was asking, but as we look at these passages, I hope that we will get a biblical understanding of rules and relationship.

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