There are passages in the Bible that, I’ll admit, I prefer to glide on by.
One of those passages is the set of instructions to build the tabernacle in Exodus 26. And yet today I felt drawn to read it, if only to sit and marvel at how explicit God’s instructions are. The Lord is more demanding than the most detail-oriented house makeover artists on HGTV; He is very clear that “this tabernacle” and “all its furnishings” should be “exactly like the pattern I will show you” (26:9). He even had materials in mind – finely twisted linen, goat hair, bronze clasps, ram skins, silver, gold and yarn. He gives specific measurements and patterns for every single inch of the building. God directs every part of the building process from beginning to end, giving believers elaborate details on precisely how and in what ways to glorify Him.
I suspect that, as Christians, we long for similarly explicit instructions.
Any honest Christian will admit there’s a lot we simply don’t know, and a lot of areas in which we lean on our interpretation of spiritual precepts to cover topics that aren’t directly mentioned in the Bible. We struggle with this lack of explicit instruction in small ways – “God, should I take this job or not? God, what exactly does your plan for me look like?” – and in large ones. Jesus never had the opportunity to surf the web, but technology is a major force in our modern lives; how, we wonder, does God feel about Facebook and Snapchat and the amount of time we spend online? What does God think about smoking? About social drinking? The death penalty? What would Jesus say about our government, or – perhaps more frightening – our churches? What does God think about celebrity culture? And by the way, Lord, when you said “be in the world and not of it,” where are we supposed to draw that line?
But we serve a God who values freedom and choice. He offered Adam and Eve the choice to obey Him, rather than commanding it. Jesus allowed the rich young ruler to walk away. And yet He also values creativity, spontaneity, and human expression. He delights when humans act on their own out of love and faith rather than waiting for a command to do so: when Mary anoints Jesus (John 12:1-8), when Zacchaeus shimmies up a tree for a glimpse of Jesus and then, after meeting Him, gives up half his wealth (Luke 19:1-10), when a centurion amazes Christ with his simple request (Matthew 8:5-13).
Whenever I start wishing for really explicit tabernacle-style instructions for my own life, or for a blueprint that will explain just how I am supposed to approach any given issue or any of the elements of modern-day life that the Bible does not directly address, I remember those moments. I remember that those are the times in the Bible where we see Jesus genuinely surprised and cheered. And I think back to Matthew 22: 34-40, which I returned to after fighting through the tabernacle passage:
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
That is the blueprint. That’s all there is. God had a miles-long list of instructions for the building in which His presence would dwell; He has two paragraphs for the believers in whom He dwells. It seems simple, sometimes too simple, and sometimes it goes against our instinct to complicate things. We want lists, instructions, building catalogs, patterns. But He chose to leave us with this, and I suspect it was because God understands the full beauty and creativity and potential of humans when they act out of love for Him.
I don’t know whether you should take that job. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. I don’t know if you should marry that man, or if God wants your daughter to be in band or not. I can’t tell you how to feel about smoking or the Internet or the death penalty. What I can tell you is this: your gut check should always consist of two simple questions.
How can I live in such a way that I love God with all my heart, soul, and mind?
How can I love my neighbor the way that I love myself?
That’s all we know. It’s all we need to know.
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