Ever since the day my children were old enough to whine “But whyyyyy?” when faced with a rule they found arbitrary or unfair, my husband and I have always given them the same answer:
“Mommy and Daddy don’t make rules to take away your fun, we make rules to keep you safe.”
It’s been repeated so often and for so long that, now that they’re in junior high and elementary school, we can usually answer accusations of injustice (But everyone else is doing it, Mom!) simply by turning the question around on them: “Why do we make the rules?” Their inevitable reply, delivered in sheepish tones, is always “To keep us safe.”
They may not like it, but they get it. They may pout dejectedly and shuffle off to their bedrooms to sulk, they may even shed bitter tears of frustration or disappointment, but deep down, they know the truth: The rules are there for a reason, and it’s to benefit them – even if it doesn’t always feel that way at the time.
Last week, about 37 million adults were reminded of this truth in the harshest possible way. They broke the “rules” of marriage by signing up for Ashley Madison, a website that matches people up for extramarital affairs. The site owners promised the utmost discretion – in fact, many people paid the company extra to completely erase all traces of their identity from its servers after they had gotten what they wanted from the site – but those promises were empty … which isn’t all that surprising for a business built on helping people break their vows. Users’ data remained stored on the company’s servers regardless of whether they had paid to have it removed, and hackers obtained and released that information to the internet at large, exposing the sins – or at least sinful intentions – of millions of people around the world.
Now, families are being torn apart, people’s jobs are in jeopardy (many people used employer-supplied computers and e-mail addresses to try and hide their affairs from their spouses – another broken rule), and several men have already committed suicide. More are sure to follow. The consequences of personal sin are headline news right now, and they aren’t pretty.
I don’t pretend to be a perfect parent. My kids get too much screen time, I have long since stopped trying to silence their bathroom humor, and I don’t always make my youngest eat his vegetables. But when it comes to the key rules in my house, my husband and I make sure they’re good ones by copying the greatest parent of them all: God, our Heavenly Father, who gave us the gift of His law not to ruin all our fun, but to keep His children safe.
Our spiritual fathers here on Earth endorse our approach. “Christian morality and God’s law are not arbitrary, but specifically given to us for our happiness,” states the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Says the official Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to “the slavery of sin.”
“God’s moral law is like an instruction manual for our lives. When purchasing a car, one receives an owner’s manual that tells how best to operate the vehicle. The manufacturer who made the car knows how it works and instructs us on what we need to do to ensure that the car functions properly. No one views these instructions as impositions into our lives. They are not given to control us or restrict our freedom. They are given to help us use the vehicle well.
Similarly, the moral law is like God’s instruction manual for our lives. God is the divine manufacturer. He made us and knows how we work. He knows that certain actions will lead us to happiness while other acts will end only in frustration and emptiness for ourselves and others. That’s why God gives the moral law — to help guide us on the pathway to happiness.
St. John Vianney put it in more dramatic terms:
“Sin is the executioner of the good God, and the assassin of the soul. It snatches us away from Heaven to precipitate us into Hell. And we love it! What folly! … The good God wishes to make us happy; that is very certain; He gave us His Law for no other end. … [but] we do not wish to be so. We turn away from Him, and give ourselves to the devil! We fly from our Friend, and we seek after our murderer!”
As millions of people and their families fight their own personal battles with that would-be murderer in the weeks to come, I hope the rest of us will pray for them, and see their struggle as a reminder: God’s law isn’t about spoiling our fun. It’s designed to keep us safe and happy, along with those we love. Deciding to break that law is like skydiving with a faulty parachute – sure, you might get the rush and the thrill in the beginning, but in the end, you’ll wind up broken, maybe beyond repair, and so will anyone who happens to be there when you come crashing down to Earth.