The Deadly Way – This is simple… overdose. Or if you’re a real expert, combine it with other medications or chemicals, and create a killer cocktail. A scaled-back subset of the Deadly Way is the Harmful Way, which might involve developing an addiction, or doing something deadly but stopping short. The Harmful Way sucks, but at least you get to keep living.
The Illegal Way – Try taking it without a prescription. Or selling it. Or making crystal meth out of it. Such practices may hurt others, but they won’t hurt you (unless you’re allergic to handcuffs.)
The Effective Way – This might involve actually reading the directions. Maybe you’re supposed to take it with food, or at certain times of the day. If it’s been prescribed to you, and you take it in appropriate amounts at appropriate times, often you’ll notice some kind of benefit.
The Best Way – I’ve been prescribed very few medications in my lifetime. But usually they will say something like, “For best results, take all prescribed doses, even after symptoms have disappeared.” I have never done that. When I’m not sick anymore, the pills vanish from my mind. But of course this is not a concept unique to the pharmaceutical industry. Practically every product with instructions has some “for best results” advice for you. It’s like the final word in “wash, rinse, repeat”. Who washes their hair twice every day? And yet who can deny that it would definitely make your hair cleaner?
Whether or not you give much thought to the four ways to use things, you would probably grant that the maker of a product has a right to decide how it should be used. And you’d probably agree even more strongly if you were not the purchaser of the product, but the borrower. The owner gets to set the terms, and it’s your job to keep them straight.
But for some reason we have trouble seeing life this way. Because there are four ways to use life as well.
When the Law of Moses instructs the Israelites in cleanliness, it is warning against using life the Deadly Way. For example, don’t touch a dead carcass if you don’t want to catch something. God, by and large, prefers people to live, and not die prematurely, and who better to give advice on the subject?
Examples abound in the Bible of instructions as to avoiding the Illegal Way. This is stuff that will not kill you, but it may kill others, or harm others, or harm the community, or disgrace God. Because God has a purpose in mind for his children, he is not happy with those working at cross-purposes with him, and he tends to punish them in one way or another.
Proverbs is a good source to learn how to live the Effective Way. Maybe you’re not killing yourself, and you’re not offending anyone, but your life doesn’t seem to work all that well, either. Proverbs will advise you how to get along with people, how to prosper, how to gain wisdom, how to avoid strife, etc, etc. Another book by the same author called Song of Solomon will tell you how to have the best sex of your life. Like I said… effective living.
So you’ve made it this far, and it occurs to you that there’s more. You want to go beyond mere common sense, mere compliance, and plain old good advice, to live out everything God intended for you. In other words, the Best Way.
This comes with admonitions like “When you are forced to go one mile, go two” and “Pray for those who persecute you”. Words of Jesus that I don’t believe are intended as law. But they are mandatory for those who are striving for the best way… the way of the cross. Paul follows suit when he talks about those things he is free to do, but which might cause a brother to stumble. In the freedom of Christ, “all” things may be permissible, but not all things are beneficial.
We are living in the best way when we trust the Father to give us the instructions, and the Son to set the example.
Naturally, it is not easy for everyone to agree on what exactly God is saying to us. Personally, I believe the more important the injunction, the more clearly we find the Bible to speak on it. But that’s not really what I’m getting at here. What I’m talking about is whether we’re even listening.
But if we decide to take the true Owner seriously, we see clearly that there is a way that leads to death, and to disfavor. But there is also a way that leads to benefit, and to blessing. And it’s not until we can stop making excuses and see ourselves for who we really are, that we will be able to see God for who he really is.