When we consider the Sovereignty of God, the idea that He is in full control through all Creation, we often view it in an overly-simple way that breeds confusion. One classic example is the apparent conflict between God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Free Will. There are many other examples that are similar to this, including daily leading of the Lord. Does God truly care which shirt you wear? Well, perhaps He does.. today, but maybe He won’t tomorrow. And what does it mean that He cares? Is He testing us by giving us useless orders just to see what we will do? He absolutely never does that, even though we may not yet see how His direction affects our lives and the lives of others. Everything He does and commands has an influence toward His purposes and God trains us by giving us smaller assignments that matter and, when we come into line with His heart, He gives us bigger assignments that matter.. but it all matters.
The remaining question is: What does it mean that God is the Governor of Creation? By understanding this we will understand more of the manner in which God leads all Creation combined with a clearer view of the “dance” between God’s influence and our own.
John Carver may be one of the most renown authors on the subject of Policy Governance. Don’t look at the terms lightly or assumptively. Some of us may hear these terms every day and forget that they have deep, technical meaning.
Policy refers to a set standard for how we always conduct ourselves on a certain issue in any situation. We have the Golden Rule, for example, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” This is a Policy that Jesus gave us. It is a method of dealing with almost any issue involving others. It is a single standard, it is easy to understand, and because it is not too specific it can related to many situations. This is a Policy.
Everyone creates policy all the time. When you sleep through your morning alarm, you are setting a policy for yourself that the alarm is not intended to rouse you from bed. So, if you implement the same policy of the alarm clock several times, eventually, you no longer listen to it and you may end up missing a morning obligation. When a father becomes angry and snaps harshly at his children, he may think he is setting a policy that he can snap and his children can’t, but he is actually setting the policy that when we are angry, we snap harshly at other people. Soon enough, his children will become angry, snap at him, then he will correct them for disrespect, which sets another policy that his own rules do not apply to him. This reverses the Golden Rule that Jesus gave us, which also makes Him unwelcome in that home. A family breaks-down from there and eventually children grow up with severe problems and the parents have regret, not knowing fully why. Where did all of it start? With a simple policy.
It’s much easier to be effective in our lives and to understand God’s leadership by understanding how and what Policy is. With one standard, we set the stage for many other actions later on. With every action we take, we influence habits that will affect future actions. One DUI can diminish a person’s driving privileges, affecting work, income, happiness, even family. Policy affects future choices that are similar as well as future choices that may not even relate.
We might consider a chess game, where one move opens-up a series of possible moves into the future. A Rubik’s Cube is similar, as with many games, puzzles, and strategies. Even players of a sports team will aim for a series of plays to set-up other plays that can lead to victory. This is the effect of policy. It is something that we practice as habits and, then, one action will open doors to other options in the future. So, we can see why it is a good idea to practice for Policy with careful thought.
Policy is the core system used by many governments and leaders to lead and direct organizations, families, and nations. Parents might have a curfew for their children. Lights out at eleven will affect many decisions all through the day. High school students will need to think ahead, to be home in time for the curfew. It doesn’t so much matter what the young adults of the household are doing, within reason, just so long as they are ready for lights out at eleven. This Policy affects some decisions, but not others, and that is how it is intended.
We might say it has “clear vagueness” and a broad/specific target. Policy is often accused of not being descriptive enough, though, usually people who offer this criticism simply don’t understand what Policy is intended to do. Through Policy we can affect some decisions, but create freedom for other choices. The United States Constitution has a policy of three branches of government—though, often times in government, the term “policy” can be used with many meanings, sometimes to distinguish between bureaucratic rules and Law, but for our purposes, we’ll say that Constitution, Legislation, and even Bureaucracy are all matters of Policy.
When a leader or government uses Policy, this allows leadership from an arm’s reach. It can effect good direction without limiting too much freedom. Policy that is too specific steals freedom from people and requires much more force to make sure people obey it. In a sense, countries with little or no freedom simply have governments that give Policy (laws) that are too specific and address too many details—laws which are not vague enough. Of course, the motive of such governments usually involves a desire for control and domination over others. This is why many families, organizations, and nations suffer from over-policy. Often times, understanding how to use Policy effectively requires letting go of the desire for too much control, and that is a heart issue, not a matter of reading enough books on Administration. In other cases, leaders need the confidence to rise up and set Policy even when it isn’t popular. The heart of good leadership is closely tied to the skill of Policy. As with any sport, skill, or art, good technique is a matter of strengthening the related muscles. So it is with Policy, that the heart of the leader must also be strong and refined from all perspectives.
When managing an organization, nation, city, family, business, company, ministry, or team, leading with both strength and distance is not easy. This is called Governance, where Policy is not too technical and not too vague. Even within different levels of the organization, Policy will become more and more specific as structure gets closer and closer to the front lines of work. Policy for a cashier may be much more technical than policy that a store manager must follow. This is only natural, but even then, every level requires proper dynamics of both clarity and vagueness. Good leadership is strong while interfering as little as possible, which sets the stage for liberty and life. This aim is Governance and God is the Governor of all Creation.
One of the best examples of early Governance in Scripture is Moses. He was given the Ten Commandments, blueprints for the Temple and Tabernacle, Levitical Law and Deuteronomical Law. Moses set-up a judicial appeal system to settle the disputes of the people, just like Christ will do when He returns. Moses was intricately involved with the beginning of Policy for God’s plan to bring peace and life on earth. It brought enough rules to keep us healthy, alive, and respectful, but not so many rules that would hinder our ability to live, choose, take responsibility, learn from our own failures, and to do so without God punishing us for honestly trying. It was the perfect combination of clarity and vagueness. The Ten Commandments were the origin of law and justice and they came directly through the Perfect Governor. Moses was the person they were first executed through, so he had a lot of responsibility.
As with any Governance, enforcement and discipline for disobedience is necessary. Policy that isn’t expected to be followed can’t have a good impact. Even though enforcing rules may not always be fun, it’s even more not fun to have complete anarchy, theft, destruction, and injustice without proper rules. God called Moses to enforce rules within his human authority just as God will enforce Eternal Policy of sin and redemption from His own Godly Authority on His Throne in the End. All of us have Policy to both enforce and follow. If we violate the Policy we must follow, then we set a new Policy that our own Policy doesn’t need to be followed either. When leaders do this, we call them hypocrites.
A common problem with Policy and Governance is that times change. Some Policies never change, while others must. Before automobiles, simple dirt roads could handle traffic. But with mass production of engine-driven cars, fast speeds require roads with both strong traction (asphalt) and clearly-painted lines. Changes to these policies are the reason we have elected officials, politicians, and leaders in government. This was the passion of the men who formed the US Constitution. They knew that some things would change while other things should rarely change, and some things should never change. While we need roads with stronger traction and clear lines, we don’t need to change the fact that law, enforcement, and justice should remain three separate branches of government. So, the US Constitution did not address matters of the roadway. Those details are left for local governments to change and enforce and set policy as the times need. Knowing which things must change and which things must not is a heavy burden for every leader and Moses was no exception.
In the wilderness, at one point, when Israel needed water, God told Moses to tap the rock with his rod and water flowed. However, at a later date, when the people had the same need, God knew that the hearts of the people had changed and so should the water faucet Policy. The second time, God told Moses to speak to the rock. Instead, Moses tapped on the rock with his rod as before and, as before, water flowed. Moses took God’s Governance into his own hands and didn’t follow the Policy that he should have obeyed. Look at what this did to his own leadership: He wasn’t allowed to lead Israel across the Jordan into the Promised Land from that one, single act of bad Policy.
Was it really that important? How much faith might Israel have gained if they had seen the water flow from Moses’ word rather than from his rod? God obviously had a lesson for Israel in this. Small Policy makes a big difference. Like a ship at sea that is one degree off course, it could eventually end up at the wrong continent. God had to take action. By deposing Moses, the nation still learned enforcement, though it might have been better if Moses had seen the Promised Land that he worked so hard for. Had he gone with them, and God’s Policy been followed a la carte on Moses’ own terms, greater evil and recklessness could have broken-out once they arrived. “You disobeyed and you’re still in the Promised Land. So, maybe it isn’t that important,” they might say in defiance. Leaders themselves are not above the law, though it becomes very easy for any human leader to think so. Even God keeps with His own promises. His promises, after all, are Policy.
Think of a parent who punishes a young child for disobedience in a small matter. At an early age, a child has neither wisdom nor discretion. Young children do not understand roads and vehicles. If left in the street, a child could be killed. A child’s life may one day depend on the ability to obey mom and dad without defiance. If a child is in the road and a car is coming, the parent may need to say, “Come here,” and the child may die if he argues. So, a parent disciplines the young child in the smallest of things so that one day, if ever needed, the child will move out of the path of an oncoming car, obey first, and understand after, because he is still alive. Many times, understanding God requires obedience first. When we say, like young children, “Why!?” and wait to obey, we may think that we can blackmail God into explaining Himself, but we actually put ourselves in harm’s way, whether we know it or not. Like a small child, we can be in danger even if we do not understand why. So, God needed to keep Moses from entering the Promised Land because of his disobedience.
Learn by the Word or the Rod
The story of Moses, the rod, the word, and not entering the Promised Land is one we all know, but rarely do reflect on the poetry of it all. You may be familiar with the term Poetic Justice. This is exactly what God did in dealing with Moses. Consider this: Rod, Word.
Jesus said, “An unbelieving and adulterous generation asks for a sign,” (Mt 12:39) and, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (Jn 29:29, courtesy ESV).
In the metaphoric sense, Jesus is applauding those who learn with the word rather than the rod. The rod is punishment, execution of justice, infliction of pain to protect or to train. The word is merely spoken. We know the cliche, to learn the hard way. This is a reference to learning with the rod rather than with the word.
Those who only learn the hard way rarely understand the difference. They see someone suggesting a path of wisdom, which they have not personally learned, and they think it is either silliness or some magical, divine cosmic energy that guides the person along some magical-mystical path that no normal person could ever find. If, say, you suggest to such a person, “Don’t step there, it’s a mud puddle,” but then they step in it anyway (as expected from them), they look at you as if you are a mystical genius. “How did you know that?” they ask with their jaws on the floor. Hopefully, it isn’t too many such instances that this happens before they start to learn, but, sadly, too many people seem addicted to learning things the hard way. They like to learn by the rod rather than the word.
Words, however, are wisdom passed down from others. We can learn wisdom from people who are younger than us and some wisdom comes form experience, not specifically Scripture. Though, Scripture is, still, the greatest source of wisdom. Solomon talks about pursuing wisdom and that wisdom begins with fear of the Lord. Of all beings in existence, God is the one being most worthy of our fear and respect. That idea alone is the greatest and first step toward wisdom. Why? Because we have not yet been judged either guilty or forgiven at the final Judgment. We have not seen His rod and if we fear Him before seeing it, then we learn from word rather than rod, and that is wisdom.
We might think that, if we learn the hard way, we still learn. There is some truth in this, however, the ultimate lesson of learning the hard way is that it is better not to learn the hard way. So, if we learn the hard way, without learning that next time we shouldn’t learn the hard way, then we really didn’t learn the most important lesson. While we all learn the hard way in some instances, we don’t reach wisdom until we grow up and learn to learn the easy way. And the easy way is not just theory, blind obedience, or dogma. Rather, learning the easy way is gaining wisdom and foresight, to know deeply in our hearts what things are true and best, of our own thinking, and to do so without pain. That is what it means to learn from word rather than from rod.
The first time, Moses was told to give water with his rod. The second time he was told to use his words. Because he used his rod rather than his words, he did not enter the Promised Land—learning with God’s rod, rather than God’s word. This is poetic justice.
From the moment Moses disobeyed, that picture was etched onto Moses’ heart, even if he hadn’t fully understood the poetry: not the rod, but the word. This was the first man of Policy for Israel, the scribe of law, deliverer of God’s own tablets. He saw the Ten Plagues, the burning bush, the halls of Egypt both as kin and as enemy of Pharaoh. He lived off manna from the sky for forty years of punishment, not for himself, but for his nation. Moses saw many works of God in his life. The poetic implications of rod and word for a man who parted the sea with his rod and delivered the Word of God are far-reaching.
Many times, in the Body of Christ, when we see such poetry in Scripture—well, let’s just say things get controversial. Some left-brained profs might call it a typology, though not a Christ typology which is different. Can we teach a Bible message merely on this? Well, maybe, so long as… but, to keep things simple, let’s leave poetry just as it is: poetry.
How many dry-genre theology books are written with a verbose, uncreative style? How many people read those books and how much vast division among Christians comes from such small audiences who read those books? Are there any best sellers in the SysTheo section? Most likely not, at least that I’m aware of. And it’s probably for good reason.
Look at how much of Scripture is poetic? Many of the Prophecy books are in prose or rhyme of some sort. Psalms is the largest single collection. Solomon’s wisdom is all in prose: Proverbs. John begins with descriptions of the incarnation that are like Tolkien’s telling of Arda. Even the Law has a beauty to it’s structure, as well as the subtle points of genealogies. New Testament letters were written in the slang of the times, which helps us understand why Black preachers and speakers can become among those more respected. God’s Word is beautiful and understandable, yet profound, not wordy and aloof. This is part of what Paul meant in 1 Cor 2:1.
Look at the Christian best sellers through history: Pilgrim’s Progress, Chronicles of Narnia, and more recently Left Behind. These are not didactic-literal works, they are stories that help us grasp the truth. And, though they are not perfect in their lessons, they are catchy. Why? Because they have that same attribute that is common through all genres of Scripture: Poetic Beauty.
In modern, Western preaching, it’s very easy to become uneasy about statements like, “Moses chose the rod rather than the word, so he was given the rod rather than the word.” In a left-minded, literal, non-poetic perspective, that can create all sorts of questions. However, a poet would have no trouble seeing it for it’s poetic beauty, say, “Hmm, yeah, that is kind of an attention-getter,” and move on without trying to develop new chapters of Systematic Theology.
I humbly suggest to the hyper-educated among Christian teachers, please, consider: Draw one picture, if you never have. Just try. And attempt to author even one, single poem, if you never have. Even in trying, you will gain an appreciation and appetite for poetry, art, and beauty in Scripture. Your lessons will take on a new flavor, more people will re-tweet your articles, and you will be less disturbed by more right-brained, outspoken, A-personality preachers. You might be just a little more understood and others may be more easy to understand. Don’t think that memorizing dictionaries, in any language, is the best form of diligence. Sometime, memorizing, crafting, and appreciating poetry can be equally necessary to understand our great Creative Creator God. And to everyone, my point is: Effective Policy is also poetic.
Poetry itself, has the attributes of good Governance Policy. And I don’t mean “poems” rather than “songs”. When I use the word “poetry” I refer to any genre that has a flair of beauty. Some speeches have neither rhyme nor meter, but they are poetic, just as was God’s justice with Moses. Martin Luther King Jr and Abraham Lincoln are both remembered for highly poetic speeches which did not rhyme. It’s interesting, that both of them produced great change, lead toward unity among the people, settling disputes, and their words long outlived their life spans.
When we understand the vague-clarity of poetry, it becomes easier to understand the vague-clarity of Policy. By seeing this connection, pondering the profound, legal beauty of Scripture, and understanding this in context of our daily habits, we pave the way to more effectively navigate and understand our own leadership, leaders below us, leaders above us, and God’s Governance leadership over all of us.