"Imagine that," I said, "Kids putting themselves to bed without being told!"
They looked at me defensively, "But, they don't have parents to tell them what to do! They HAVE to do the right thing on their own."
I've noticed the same logic demonstrated when they are all playing together nicely alone; then as soon as a parent walks into the room, they begin bickering and arguing. To their mind, the authority figure bears the responsibility or civil management. Where there is no authority figure present, they are capable of managing themselves. But, when the authority figure is nearby, they turn off the switch that says that they need to control themselves because they know that they are under the control of someone in authority. And, under these conditions, if they do something particularly outlandish or irresponsible, it is the fault and burden of the authority figure, not their own.
I've seen (and, yes, experienced) the same kind of thinking as adults. I can drive my car any speed I want because it is the burden of the police (or State Trooper) to catch me doing what is wrong. But, if I am out on a logging road, out in the middle of nowhere, safety is the number one consideration (there are no State Troopers to catch me).
This is the difference between "Rule of Law" and "Legalism". In a legalistic society, the individuals in the community are managed by the authority figures in that community. People do what they are instructed to do, and avoid what they are instructed to avoid because they don't want to be punished, penalized or embarrassed by the authority figures of the community. People break the rules and stray from he paths of right living because the responsibility of maintaining order rests on the authority figure: if I am successful in doing wrong, it is the fault of the authority figure for not catching me and correcting me.
In a society that is based upon Rule of Law, each person is responsible for their own conduct. We do what is right because we know that it is the right thing to do, not because there is someone one else watching over us to correct us if we do wrong.
The problem we face, today, in our society, is that we live in a legalistic environment. And, we assume, under one criteria or another, that God is a legalistic authority. That means, in the rudimentary levels of consciousness, we believe that when we do something wrong (or fail to do what is right) it is God's fault for not catching us and correcting us.
But the standard of governance that God outlined in the Torah (the Law of the Bible) is not a legalistic system. It is based solely on Rule of Law. The responsibility of maintaining order in the community was established as the responsibility of everyone: from the noblest chieftain to the lowliest wood carrier, from the oldest scholar, to the youngest child. Each person was instructed to bear their own responsibility of conduct, and share that responsibility equally as part of a community.
This is why, more than any reason, people have such a hard time understanding Christian groups that embrace the the commands of the Old Testament. They only understand legalism: that abiding by rules and instructions can only happen when we are managed by an outside authority (and if God isn't managing them in that way, then it must be a human authority, a legalistic human regime that is forcing people to comply with archaic rules of order). Admittedly, this is the case in a lot of Messianic and Torah Roots congregations. And, without question, those groups spend most of their energy keeping folks in line.
But, if we really want to grow closely in our relationship with God, we need to stop looking at Him as our Authority figure, and start looking to Him as our loving Father.
When I came home from my trip yesterday, the children didn't start bickering with each other. They sat politely with one another, waited their turn, read stories and played games with me. They didn't want to that precious time of fellowship to be distracted by rules or disorder. They each managed their self so that we could share together the goodness of the relationship, instead of hiding true agendas, hoping not to get caught.
When we stop expecting others to manage us and begin to order our lives under the Rule of Law, an amazing thing begins to happen. We begin to value each other on the basis the goodness of that relationship, instead of guarding ourselves against the potential of hostility. We start to see God see God for who He is, instead of just hoping He doesn't see us in heart of hearts.
That's what God is saying in Deuteronomy 29:10-15. His Covenant relationship is not just with the leadership, whose job it must be to keep everyone in line. His covenant relationship is with everyone. Living according to that standard of relationship can't be forced upon people who want to see what they can get away with. You can get away with, really, anything you want (if you try hard enough). But, if that's the way you choose to live, you'll never really understand intimacy. You'll never really experience love. And you'll always be centered upon your own ability to manipulate instead of living in harmony with those around you.