There are few things more frustrating than arbitrary fences—boundaries and rules that don’t seem to exist for any good reason. It’s annoying to be told, “You can’t do that,” but it’s downright infuriating when the only explanation offered is, “Because I said so.”
It’s hard to be content with that. Children are infamous for their never-ending inquiries into the inner workings of the world. They want to know why things are the way they are, and they’re deeply attuned to noticing when something smacks of injustice or unfairness.
They want a world that makes sense.
As we get older and the world stops being so new and confusing, we don’t ask as many questions as we used to—but deep down, we still want a world that makes sense. We want rules that are fair and equitable and grounded in reason. Rules that exist “because someone said so” often feel like the exact opposite of what we’re looking for: arbitrary, unwarranted, unreasonable.
The Bible can feel like that sometimes. It’s filled with dos and don’ts—this is okay, that’s wrong, do this, don’t do that—but the explanations aren’t always as accessible as we’d like them to be. At first glance, some of those dos and don’ts look like arbitrary hoops God expects us to jump through—and looking at them, we’re forced to grapple with that ever-present question engrained so deeply in our nature:
Why did God settle on these particular rules? Why do they apply to everyone? Why didn’t God design these rules to change and evolve with the cultural values of the day?
The answer—the most obvious, most succinct answer—is the exact answer we don’t want to hear:
“Because God said so.”
We might balk at it, but it’s true. As the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, God has every right to make whatever rules He wants—regardless of why. The rules are the rules simply because God said so.
Thankfully, there’s a lot more to the story—we just have to be willing to look for it.
On the verge of entering the Promised Land, Moses asked Israel, “What does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the Lord and His statutes which I command you today for your good?” (Deuteronomy 10:12-13).
A couple of chapters later, Moses adds, “Observe and obey all these words which I command you, that it may go well with you and your children after you forever, when you do what is good and right in the sight of the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 12:28).
God’s rules are anything but arbitrary. Everything He commands, He commands for a reason—and not just any reason, but for our good. Because God created everything, He also understands how everything works—and He understands it on a level we can only begin to comprehend. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth,” He tells us, “so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).
Much as we might hate to admit it, you and I don’t always know what’s best. We don’t have God’s perspective. We can’t look out over the whole of the universe and see the bigger picture like He does. And so when He gives us a command, it’s because He knows we need it. He knows the boundaries we have to operate within if we want a life worth living—and so He sets them for us.
God is a shepherd.
Christ told His disciples, “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. … And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:14, 16).
Those words are an echo of a passage from the Old Testament, where God promises, “I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick. … You are My flock, the flock of My pasture; you are men, and I am your God” (Ezekiel 34:16, 31).
God cares a great deal about His sheep—about us. When we wander beyond the sheepfold—when we find ourselves trapped and overwhelmed in dangerous territory—He comes after us. He carries us back when we’re too broken or too sick to make the journey ourselves and then nurses us back to health.
God sets boundaries and establishes rules because we need them. He builds fences to protect us and keep us safe from the wolves and the robbers that lie beyond.
He doesn’t stop us from crossing those fences, though. He won’t prevent us from stepping beyond the boundaries and breaking the rules He gave for our good, and He won’t stop us from reaping the consequences that come with that decision. If we’re determined to live our lives outside of His fences, He won’t force us to do otherwise. We’ll always have our free will—just as God will always be a shepherd who cares for His flock.
We won’t always immediately understand the reason for all of God’s rules—but there is a reason. We’re promised that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). We won’t always have the clarity of mind to see how a particular boundary fits into the bigger picture—but we know that even when we can’t see the bigger picture, God can.
Once we come to accept God as our all-knowing, loving shepherd, an incredible thing happens:
We begin to realize that, when it comes to reasons, “Because God said so” is the best one we could possibly hear.