Last week we talked about the practice of tweaking the rules that seems to be a part of the make up of man if the rules don’t make sense if they bring undesirous consequences. If they are going to be uncomfortable to maintain, most feel we should be able to “suspend” or “tweak” the rules to better fit into our particular circumstance at the time. I cited the debate the last few weeks on allowing Ohio State to play for the Big Ten championship even if they did not reach the number of games required to be played (see Dec 7th blog). This was an issue because the game with Michigan last Saturday was in question due to COVID. Mercifully for Michigan, the game was cancelled. But in order for Ohio State to qualify for the Big Ten Championship, the Big Ten, as expected, changed the rule they had set that to qualify, a team would have to have played at least six games. Ohio State ended up playing only five.
But when this was still in question, the almost universal opinion by pundits and fans was that the rules needed to be changed last minute in this case because Ohio State is far and away the best team in the Big Ten and a candidate for the Championship Playoffs. Thus, if the rules needed to be tweaked to allow Ohio State to compete for the Big Ten and subsequently the National Championship, then that should be done.
The flavor of the blog last week was decidedly against “tweaking the rules”. But at the end of the blog I asked the question, “Is it ever legitimate to tweak the rules?” To answer this, we need to turn to the Scriptures, for there are examples of God himself “tweaking his own rules”. Let me just quickly cite four:
1. 2 Chronicles 29-30 good King Hezekiah leads a great revival in Israel. In chapter 29 He cleanses the temple and restores temple worship. In chapter 30 he determines to observe the Passover which has not been done in many, many years in Israel. The trouble was, that Hezekiah was up against a time fence. He could not arrange it all before the 14th day of the first month of the year. But he could do it by the second month. There were other aberrations of the observance. Thus, Hezekiah prayed, “may the good Lord pardon everyone who sets his heart to seek God, the Lord, the God of his fathers, even though not according to the sanctuary’s’ rules of cleanness” And the text then says “And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people” (2 Chron. 30:18-20).
2. David ate the Show Bread (Bread of Presence) from the Tabernacle when he was on the run from Saul and was not condemned by Ahimelech the priest (1 Sam. 21:1-6). Jesus used this account as justification of his disciples gleaning ears of grain on the Sabbath, proclaiming he was Lord of the Sabbath (Mt. 12:1-8)
3. David was not killed as the Law required when he committed adultery with Bathsheba (1 Sam. 11-12).
4. Jesus “violated” the Sabbath often proclaiming that the Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath (Mk. 2:27-28).
Well, other examples might be given. But a study of these and similar passages show that God “tweaks” his own rules or allows others to do so in certain circumstances. So, the question of “should we ever tweak rules” is not as simple as yes or no. What we need to do is put a number of caveats around our decision-making process when faced with the possibility of “tweaking” rules.
1. Rules should only be tweaked as a last resort. In the case of Hezekiah’s Passover, the option was to allow another year to pass without a Passover observance. The revival was hot and the “iron needed to be struck” while it was. In the case of David and his men eating the Bread of Presence, it was life sustaining while David was fleeing for his life. With David’s adultery, to kill him would have meant to disrupt the Messianic line and God’s promise to David that his descendants would sit on that throne until Jesus, the ultimate King, did so. With Jesus and the Sabbath, he only “violated” the Sabbath in order to do good for needy people not to play soccer or carry-on commerce.
2. It should never be done for personal comfort or advantage. Often rules get tweaked for spurious reasons. Sometimes those reasons are not justifiable reasons for forgoing the rules. Many times, decision makers tweak rules to their own benefit or the benefit of a family member or close friend.
3. Higher purposes need to be served. That is to say, in all the examples of “rule tweaking” in Scripture a higher purpose/principle was being served. What those purposes are needs to be identified scripturally. We can’t simply say, “The higher purpose is that of our comfort, convenience, or desire to avoid a difficult situation.” Biblical truth and principle must be served.
4. It should never be done in partiality. To change rules and policy for one and not another, for the one who is influential, in a position of authority, or well liked and not for the “pedestrian” is to severely compromise biblical principle. You see, God hates partiality. Do a study on the word “partiality” or “respecter of persons” in the Bible and you will realize that. Favorable treatment for some, especially those in positions of privilege, is condemned by God.
Upon further reflection, other parameters might be added to these. The bottom line is that while God may allow for “tweaking the rules”, it should only be done rarely, advisedly, and under certain stringent guidelines that accord with Scriptural principles and not “whilly-nilly”, especially when it is to our personal, group, or corporate advantage.
Hopefully, a balanced and biblically informed view of “tweaking the rules” will be employed by all who are in positions of leadership and authority to the glory of God and the good of his people.
Now, should Ohio State have been given special consideration in this situation? Your homework is to work through the four caveats above (along with others of which you might think), apply them to that situation, and see what decision you would make. Sometimes biblical answers to tough questions are more than yes or no.