It is written

It is written.

Mat 4:4

It is written can have two meanings. Let me illustrate one with a little story.

A Liar

When I was in 6th grade, our teacher took us to an excavation site of the Romans in Switzerland called Vindonissa. At this site,they had a museum that showed interesting inventions that the Romans already used.

One of these was a lock for a door of great ingenuity, considering the time it was built. That night I rebuilt the lock as a carton model and the next day presented it to my teacher as a work I had done some time ago.

She did not believe me and called me out as a liar. Next, she asked me why we should not lie. I answered—remember, I was only 12 years old—that we should not lie because it was written in the bible.

The next thing I knew was that she threw a staple of booklets at me for being fresh. She was not the most qualified as a teacher.

One Meaning

The first meaning therefore of the phrase “it is written” is: it is law. It’s in the bible—or any rule book your religion, cult, group or institution follows. Thus it has to be followed.

This is an extrinsic, external motivation. Some people follow rules because “it is written”. Some people follow rules because it is expected of them. They look to the outside world to make decisions.

For many things, this makes sense. External rules and values allowed for the building of societies, whether nations or corporations, people groups or associations. External common rules are a basic and necessary requirement for civilization.

Most religions, most churches function this way. “It is written” and at times “this is the way it just is” are so powerful, that people not behaving according to the rules and expectations are shunned by the fellowship. Even though nobody likes to disfellowship with them. But it is done for the greater good: to protect those that stay.

You can see this exemplary in the old testament. It was the law of Moses and their God that gave identity to the people of Israel. Not following the law had to be punished with death by stoning, the ultimate and rather final way of disfellowshipping. To protect the people from evil.

The Alternative

“It is written” can be interpreted very differently. Paul used it like this, and many pastors do as well. The phrase has the meaning now of “I forgot chapter and verse, but it’s somewhere in the bible”.

It’s not even a counterpart to the old testament rendering above. That is countered with grace and forgiveness. The law written in out hearts.

This new interpretation is much more lightweight. It does not carry the consequences of the first interpretation.

Some people would never use the phrase in its first connotation, but rather often in its alternative meaning. Those people decide on inner-world, intrinsic values.

For them, the decision forming factors make sense not because of the external rewards or pressure, but because they just plain make sense. They straightforward follow from their inner world representation.

If those people decide against their groups expectations and rules, it is not out of rebellion, as it were with somebody that is deciding based on external facts. Rebelling against rules still hands the power to those external rules. I am still not free, still reacting. It is the opposite of conforming.

Following intrinsic rules and values can be seen as a graduation. You matured. Those rules do not have to differ from the rules of your group, although they often will in part. And they do not have to conform either. They have to make sense within the paradigm of—yourself.

You know me by now, and if not, there are 249 previous blog entries to help you understand me—making this number 250. I am a strong believer in Jesus, the church, relationship. You can therefore be assured, I am not talking rebellion here.

I am talking about strong personal believes that are motivated from within because they align with all that you are.

I am not talking about believes motivated by your old nature, rebelling against godly order.

I am talking about a personal conviction, a changed mind, sanctified emotions. It is written deeply into my being.

Two Personality Types

Intrinsic motivation is so much stronger than extrinsic. Doing something because of or for another wears you out.

But that is true for only part of the people. There are many that look to the outside to decide. Yet their motivation usually is different.

Instead of doing something because it is expected or written, they do it because others benefit. It makes life so much easier for all of us. And as long as this is true, and it does not only make life easier for others, but not the decision maker, that is great. It is nobel as well as healthy.

The people deciding based on sense and meaning can easily make the wrong decisions for egotistical reasons or wrong internal models of the world.

Both ways have their strengths and weaknesses, both are valuable.

But next time you want to call somebody rebellious that does not follow the rules, stop and think first. And if somebody follows the rules, don’t call him a lap dog.

How do you make decisions? That is the more interesting question. Do you follow rules set up by your surroundings? Why do you do so? To belong, or to serve? Or do you follow your own rules, and why? Or do you just think you follow your own, but react in rebellion to external rules?

Let me know, I am interested.