My parents took a trip to the Ozarks when I was a boy and they left me with my aunt and uncle for a week. Aunt Jody was and continues to be a delightful southern belle. Her only discredit in my mind at the time was that she was married to a scary, mysterious man with a penchant for rules and ridicule. This did not mesh well with my default settings. I thought he must have won her in some kind of shady speakeasy poker game. A usually rambunctious if not obnoxious boy, I was often the recipient of Uncle Roy’s displeasure at family gatherings. Luckily, I was also often able to avoid him due to the sheer massiveness of our family.
Now I was going to live under his roof for a week with not a room in the house outside his jurisdiction. Fortunately, this was during the school year and in good weather, so I spent the majority of my time out from under the Shadow. The only catch was that my weekly behavior report would be coming back to him this week. I shuddered at the thought of his calling me to account for the offenses which were to be inevitably listed. However, at the end of this particular week, I had been a saint. My teachers were baffled. I brought my report home to Aunt Jody, whose pleasure was palpable. But while her approval was pleasant, it had not been the motivation behind my perfect performance. My motivation had been to circumvent a conversation with Uncle Roy.
Pastor Timothy Keller gives a definition of sin that seems to hit closer to the truth than the traditional “breaking God’s rules.” Instead he points to Jesus’ story about the prodigal sons, one of whom ran away from the father’s love by breaking his rules while the other ran away from the father’s love by keeping all the rules. Both sons were guilty of avoiding true relationship with the father, though their hearts’ intentions were manifested in polar opposite ways. Thus Keller’s definition of sin is simply, “running away from God.”
I lived under Uncle Roy’s roof and I obeyed his rules, but I did not behave as one of his sons. I instead did everything I could to avoid any kind of relationship with him. I wonder how many of us live under God’s roof, obeying His rules while clinging to orphan identities, afraid or unwilling to let Him know us warts and all. For what it’s worth, I discovered years later that I had been wrong about Uncle Roy. Have we been wrong about God, too?