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Instructions help us get things right


Alice Harrison examines the concept of goodness and what it has to do with God

It was crucial for the manuals to be read

DO you read manuals and follow the instructions? Following directions comes naturally to some of us, while oth­ers are more confident in their ability to work things out for themselves and so don’t bother with instructions.

My son once had a job writing manuals for an oil company. When a new piece of equipment arrived, his employers would tell him how it worked and he had to write down the explanation in terms everyone could understand. In that working environment, it was crucial for the manuals to be read and understood.

When God called Moses to form the Israelites into a new nation, he gave him instructions to write down so the people could understand and follow them. The sim­plest form of them, as set out in the Bible (see Exodus 20:3–17), is known as the Ten Commandments.

But are these instructions proof that God is a killjoy rather than a good God?

After all, does it really matter if we envy our neighbour’s house, don’t particularly lis­ten to our aged parents or work on the Sabbath (whatever that may mean)? Isn’t this an exam­ple of God trying to dictate what we can and can’t do, when it should be up to us?

Perhaps we can consider a different point of view. The Department of Health advises peo­ple to eat five portions of fruit and veg a day. It has also told everyone to cut out smoking and to moderate their alcohol intake because of health concerns. None of this is easy to do if we don’t like eating vegetables, have smoked for years or enjoy regularly going out drinking. But if we want to stay healthy, we try to adhere to this advice.

Could we look at God’s instructions in the same way?

Through Moses, God was building a new community. He wanted people to be strong in their relationships, as well as healthy in body and mind. And if God created them, surely he knew what was best for their wellbeing.

He still does. I believe God’s command­ments were given for our own individual good and for the good of our communities. They are a reflection of God’s goodness and direct us to how we can live at peace.

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