Captain Francesco Schettino was more than two miles off course when the 114,500-ton Costa Concordia hit a reef this January 2012. The impact sent more than 4,000 passengers on the luxury cruise ship into a panic. It sent a still-unknown number of them to their cold and lonely deaths. There is a reason for rules. In a world filled with hazards and threats, they define the approved course. They show the way that is safe. They mark the path we can trust.
Our confused society has given rules a bad rap. Torah, the Hebrew word for “law,” means “instruction”–always given, by the way, for the recipients’ well-being (Deut. 6:24). The author of Psalm 119 understood that, and wrote its 176 verses as an acrostic tribute to God’s commands. The Psalm is divided into sections that move through the entire Hebrew alphabet. Within each section, every line begins with the same alphabet character. The longest chapter in the Bible celebrates God’s law–yet it is anything but legalistic.
This positive way of thinking about God’s commands brings a new appreciation for them, and for the God who provides us a lighted path through life’s dark and dangerous trails (Psalm 119:105). Just as Torah, the general word for “law,” brings to mind a picture of God’s road-markers, so the root of the most common Hebrew word for “sin” suggests a deviation from the proper path. Straying is bad. Intentionally going off course is worse. Captain Schettino admits that he was off course intentionally.
The Jews were given God’s Torah, but God has given us something better than that. He embodied his will in a person. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. “I am the way,” said Jesus–the road, the path, the course (John 14:6). We can say to Jesus every day, “I am safe when by thy side.” In that confidence, let us pray: “Savior, lead me lest I stray . . .”