Why does God give us so many rules?

November 8, 2006

A few years ago I had the great gift of traveling to France with my uncle, driving through the countryside for a week and visiting many fascinating historical sites. As we drove along the small country roads, we kept noticing these odd signs that looked out of place: plywood cut-outs in the shape of men, women, and sometimes even children, bizarrely standing there alongside the road like life-size restroom signs. We passed too many to count, and so I was shocked when I was later told that the signs represent deaths that have occurred along the road due to car accidents. The local government had begun to put them up as a reminder of the dangers of speeding and disobeying the traffic laws.

We’re often tempted to think of laws as burdens, as stupid rules that keep us from being truly “free” and doing what we want to do. But just think how crazy and dangerous driving would be without any laws: everyone driving on whatever side of the road they wanted, flying around like they were auditioning for The Fast and the Furious, without any regard for anyone else! What chaos! So rather than inhibiting our freedom, such laws actually enable us to be free; they protect us and help us to live better lives.

The same truth applies to God’s commandments and moral laws. You may have heard people say, “I could never be Catholic—you guys have so many rules, you make life so complicated! Just love God and love your neighbor, like Jesus said, that’s all we need!” They are correct that the two greatest commandments are “Love God with all of your heart, mind, and strength,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12). But if we are disobeying the commandments and making immoral choices, can we really say that we are loving God and loving our neighbor? Rather than being an obstacle to love, don’t God’s commandments actually free us to love more deeply?

For example, God asks us to come to church to worship him every Sunday. He does not ask this to place a burden on us, but rather because he desires to feed us with his Word and with the Eucharist. He knows that we need this nourishment, as well as the support of our Christian brothers and sisters. And like all loving fathers, God wants to spend time with his children and to build an intimate relationship with them. So instead of being something that is inconvenient and burdensome, following the third commandment enables us to live life more fully!

When you get down to it, all of the Church’s moral teachings are like this: they are given to us by Jesus so that we may be truly free, so that we might profit the most from life. Just as a mother will lay down certain rules for her children out of love, the Church teaches as she does out of love for all of us, her children. Her high moral standards are not meant to burden us and rob us of our freedom, but rather to free us to love more deeply and to live life to the fullest!

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