The Appearance Of Commitment
The bloke behind me on the bus had been chatting on his mobile for quite some time when he came out with this gem. He’d been counselling his friend on how to deal with a difficult work situation and then, to move the conversation along, had confided that he was planning to propose to his girlfriend. He seemed genuinely surprised that his friend’s thoughts immediately went to marriage. He explained himself: “I’ve been looking at rings a bit, but you know what I’m like with commitment…”
Now this is pure speculation, and may be a gross misreading of the situation, but from this snippet of conversation I deduce that the man’s girlfriend had been getting restless. She wanted to know if their relationship had any future, and he, afraid of commitment, but almost equally afraid of losing her, decided that a proposal was what she was looking for. A ring on her finger would assure her enough of his commitment to her that she wouldn’t leave him and they could carry on as before for an indefinite period.
Unfortunately, he’s probably about to get the shock of his life. If his girlfriend is like the majority of women out there, a ring won’t mean the end of a conversation but the beginning. She will immediately go into wedding-planning mode and start thinking about dates and dresses, guests and gift lists, flowers and photographers. She will see the circle of gold and the sparkly stone as an indication that his heart has changed, and will expect further actions to follow.
He will discover that he hasn’t bought himself an easy life, but a whole new raft of expectations. Does this remind you of anyone? For me it brought to mind the Israelites in Isaiah 58, asking ‘Why have we fasted and you have not seen it?’
Sermons on this passage usually move quickly onto verse 6, exhorting us to loose the chains of injustice, share our food with the hungry, clothe the naked and generally get involved in social justice ministries – and rightly so. I had not noticed before, though, the very first, simple but all-inclusive reason God gives the people for his silence: “On the day of your fasting, you do as you please.”
This is exactly what the man on the bus was doing, performing an outward act of commitment to his girlfriend, but at heart simply acting to please himself. The Israelites fasted so God would grant their requests, the boyfriend bought a ring so his girlfriend would stay with him.
It will be no revelation to readers of this blog that we should avoid legalism and not expect our outward shows or even our private prayers to force God’s hand and persuade him to act in our favour. We all know that the purpose of prayer and obedience is in order that our relationship with God may be deepened, that we would be better able to hear his voice and serve him. For those, like me, who sometimes find illustrations easier to relate to than abstract concepts, though, I hope this is a useful illustration of the kind of attitude that we can so easily slip into.
We can’t just give God an outward display of commitment and hope that will keep him quiet. We need to have more courage, and more honesty, than the bloke on the bus and either commit ourselves fully, or make a clean break and walk away. Which will it be?