I spent the summer sleeping in what was essentially the top bunk of a bunk bed (it didn’t have a bottom bunk, that was a general storage area for all my stuff.) The bed would have been a good 1.5m or so off the ground, which was solid concrete. I was living in a cabin full of campers who were sleeping in similar bunk beds, only they didn’t have a storage area under their bunks, they had the standard bunk bed set-up of two beds.
There was one other important difference between my bed and the campers. On the top bunks of the beds used by the campers there was a protective railing that the health and safety people said had to be there to stop them falling out. I found this railing quite annoying, as it was a hassle to have to climb over rather than be able to just pull yourself onto the bed or get out of it easily. And it meant you couldn’t sit with your legs hanging over the edge of the bed. Fortunately the health and safety people didn’t seem so concerned about me as they were about the campers, and they were happy that if the railing was present near the bed, it didn’t need to be put in place. So the first thing I did was take it off and store it in the storage area under the bed. After all, I was not in the habit of falling out of my bed at home, and I had slept in the same bed the previous summer with no problems. (I think the health and safety inspectors were under the impression that every night I would be putting the railing back where it belonged. But I never told them that, so my conscious is clear…)
One night in the middle of the summer I woke up in the middle of the night in the middle of the air, falling rapidly from my bed to the hard floor beneath me. I had been having some weird vivid nightmarish dream, and suddenly I was aware I was falling, and then I realised I was now awake, and the floor was fast approaching, and it was going to hurt. Somehow reflexes took over and I managed to land in something resembling a crawling position so my knees and arms took the worst of the impact, but I was left on the floor for several minutes unable to move. Needless to say it isn’t something I want to do again.
And I realised that night that annoying as the railing was, it had a purpose. Had it been in place I would have rolled into it and been prevented from falling to the ground. And I think God’s rules are a lot like that.
A lot of people don’t like a lot of the rules you find in the Bible. They say they are out-dated, irrelevant or just there to suck the fun out of life. Sure the ones like “Do not murder” are a good idea, but not getting drunk? Only having sex with your wife or husband? What is the point?
And here’s the thing. God is not some omnipotent kill-joy, making rules for the sake of it to limit our fun. When God puts a rule like “Don’t be drunk with wine” (Ephesians 5:18) in the Bible it is there for our good. It is there to protect us from harm – it is a railing to stop us falling onto the hard concrete floor.
God is our loving Father. He knows what is best for us. He knows what will only bring us harm. He doesn’t want to see us get hurt. The rules aren’t there to spoil are fun – they are there so we can enjoy life without falling to the ground.
That night as I fell I learnt the importance of the railing. I learnt that sometimes the things we think are a pain are actually there for our benefit.
But there can be some people who think that the best way to fall isn’t to simply trust the railings, but to avoid climbing to the top bunk in the first place. In Jesus’ day they were called Pharisees, and they added in all sorts of restrictive extra laws to stop people having a chance of breaking one of God’s laws. But we don’t need the extra burden. In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus says “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” God’s rules are there for our protection for “not everything is helpful” (1 Corinthians 10:23). And if we follow them they are totally sufficient. We don’t need weighed down by extra “religious” laws that prevent us from enjoying the freedom Jesus died to give us. Freedom to enjoy the top bunk, with the protective railings God puts in place to stop us falling.