Imagine, if you will, you’re driving along on some back-country road on a lazy Saturday afternoon in the fall. You’re riding along, top down or sunroof open with a clear blue sky as a backdrop, admiring the brilliant colors of the season, the reds, the browns, the yellows of the leaves, as they flutter effortlessly to the ground in the gentle autumn breeze.
You’re on the verge of being completely lost in the moment when, all of sudden, you come upon a four-way stop sign.
What do you do?
You stop, don’t you?
Duh?! Of course you do (unless, that is, your brakes suddenly malfunction.)
Perhaps you’re saying to yourself right now, “What the heck kind of a question was that?!”
But, wait! There’s more! I’ve got another one for you.
Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why it is you always stop whenever you come to a stop sign? That question may appear to you to be simple enough on the surface, but, it’s really not.
Think about it for a moment.
What is it about a simple red and white octagon-shaped sign that generates within you a sense of immediate, if not instinctive, obedience to and compliance with what the sign intrinsically represents? Perhaps it’s the fear that a police officer might be inconspicuously spying you out somewhere nearby. Or, maybe it’s something within you, something intangible, like the proverbial “voice inside your head” that says to your conscience that stopping is simply the right thing to do because, well, it’s what you’ve been taught. You have absolutely no idea who placed the stop sign where it is nor do you care. All you know is that from the moment you sat behind a steering wheel for the first time to learn to drive, one of the primary rules that was drilled into your head was that whenever and wherever you see the letters S-T-O-P up against a red background, your foot had better hit the brakes and your vehicle had better come to a halt. Otherwise, there will undoubtedly be consequences.
When it comes to traffic laws, a stop sign means to us exactly what it says – stop. No one ever questions the interpretation of the word on the sign. Arguments aren’t had nor are heated exchanges engaged in over what the sign means or why it exists. In fact, I’m sure most of us would agree, would we not, that stop signs exist for our own good; that is, for the safety and benefit of drivers and pedestrians alike? Of course, we would!
Regardless of where you are in the world and regardless the language in which it is written, the ubiquitous red and white stop sign is universal in its meaning: stop your vehicle. However, as it relates to the commandments and precepts of God, nothing seems to mean what it says (at least, not anymore.) Come across a stop sign at an intersection and people immediately obey. But, whenever the Bible says “stop” or “don’t” or “wait”, all of sudden everything is up for debate and interpretation. A stop sign is a declarative command that is to be immediately complied with; whereas God’s commands aren’t really commands at all but rather suggestions with which we may (or may not) comply as we choose.
My point here is that it’s interesting how people will apply such immediate, unambiguous and unquestioned authority to something as innocuous as a metal signpost that will one day turn to rust, but not to the unchanging, unfailing, life-transforming Word of Almighty God which will last forever (Isaiah 40:8).
It’s what I call “stop sign theology” – a selective, subjective mindset or attitude in which we willingly acknowledge and acquiesce to the authority of the standards and expectations of the world, while withholding such obeisance from God.
We do this, primarily, because when we are wrong, that is to say, when we sin, worldly authorities, like police officers, for example, rarely exhibit the traits and attributes of God we favor most, that is, His love, mercy and grace. On the other hand, should a police officer catch you in the act of running a stop sign, you can rest assured you’re going to get a ticket. However, unlike the police, when we violate God’s spiritual “stop signs” we expect Him to be gracious and understanding, to give us a break; all the while keeping His spiritual “ticket book” in His back pocket and letting us off with just a warning – if that. Funny how we like when God plays “good cop”; but when He plays “bad cop” (as we define it) we don’t like Him so much, do we?
The first example of God’s divine stop sign to mankind can be found in Genesis 2:16, which reads, “The Lord God commanded the man (Adam), saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat [stop sign], for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” Unfortunately, Adam and Eve chose to run through God’s divine stop sign (Genesis 3) and, as far as the human race is concerned, it’s been all downhill from there. God granted to Adam and Eve full access to the entirety of the Garden of Eden; a place so expansive that four rivers ran through it (Genesis 2:10-14). And yet, out of all that God had graciously granted to them, they chose to run the one stop sign He placed before them (Genesis 2:16-17).
Sadly, today is no different than in the days of Adam and Eve in that mankind still refuses to heed God’s warning signs which, not unlike the stop signs we see every day along the roads we travel, are there for our own good and welfare. The Word of God is unambiguous on issues such as homosexuality, same-sex marriage and abortion, but, we stubbornly ignore these commands; choosing instead to do our own thing and run right through them with no regard or thought to the resulting consequences or the coming accountability each of has to God for making such consequential decisions (Romans 14:12).
Perhaps we would be more inclined to obey God if He were more like the police. On second thought, nah. Because then we would only complain that God is too much like the police (even though we have no problem obeying the police.)
See where I’m going with this?
In closing, my challenge to you is this: the next time you’re out driving around and you bring your vehicle to a halt at the next stop sign you come to, ask yourself if that same act of compliance applies as it relates to your obedience to God. Because a stop sign isn’t the only thing that means what it says.
So does God’s Word.
Think about it.