Is the Bible Too Restrictive?

“AS A child, I was not taught any Bible standards. God was never even mentioned,” relates a young man in Finland. Such a background is not uncommon today. Many, especially the young, consider the Bible to be hopelessly old-fashioned and its advice too restrictive. Those who want to follow the Bible are viewed by others as oppressed people whose lives are burdened with prohibitions and commandments. Thus, many feel that it is better to leave the Bible on the bookshelf and seek guidance elsewhere.

That view of the Bible is due, in large measure, to the long history of oppression by the churches of Christendom. During the period that some historians have called the Dark Ages, for example, the Catholic Church in Europe dominated virtually every aspect of people’s life. Anyone who dared to disagree with the church risked torture and even execution. The Protestant churches, which emerged later, also restricted personal freedom. Today, such terms as “Calvinist” or “Puritan” bring to mind not just the followers of certain beliefs but the harsh discipline associated with such groups. Consequently, because the churches were oppressive, people wrongly conclude that the teachings of the Bible must be oppressive.

In recent centuries, the churches have lost much of their grip on people’s lives, at least in some lands. In the wake of traditional religious beliefs came the notion that people have the right to decide for themselves what is right and what is wrong. With what result? Ahti Laitinen, a professor of criminology and judicial sociology, explains: “Respect for authority has decreased, and people’s understanding of what is acceptable and what is unacceptable is getting more vague.” Ironically, even church leaders have given in to this way of thinking. A prominent Lutheran bishop stated: “I tend to shun the interpretation that moral questions are solved by turning to the Bible or some religious authority.”

Unlimited Freedom Desirable?

The idea of unlimited freedom may sound appealing, especially to young people. Few enjoy being patronized or having to live according to a list of dos and don’ts. However, should everyone be free to do whatever he wants? To answer this question, consider an illustration. Imagine a city with no traffic laws. No driver’s license or driving test is required. People can drive any way they like, even when intoxicated, with no need to worry about speed limits, stop signs, traffic lights, one-way streets, or pedestrian crossings. Would such “freedom” be desirable? Certainly not! The result would be chaos,  confusion, and catastrophe. Though traffic laws restrict people’s freedom, we understand that these laws protect drivers as well as pedestrians.

Similarly, Jehovah gives direction on how we should live. This benefits us. Without such guidance, we would have to learn things by trial and error, and in so doing, we could harm ourselves and others. Such an atmosphere of moral anarchy would be as undesirable and hazardous as driving in a city without traffic laws. The truth is, we need rules and laws of some kind​—a fact that most people readily admit.

“My Load Is Light”

Traffic laws may entail a lengthy and detailed list of regulations​—in some places the number of parking rules alone is staggering. In contrast, the Bible does not set out a long list of rules. Rather, it sets out basic principles, and these are not burdensome or oppressive. Jesus Christ extended an appealing invitation to his contemporaries: “Come to me, all you who are toiling and loaded down, and I will refresh you. For my yoke is kindly and my load is light.” (Matthew 11:28, 30) In a letter to the Christian congregation in Corinth, the apostle Paul wrote: “Where the spirit of Jehovah is, there is freedom.”​—2 Corinthians 3:17.

That freedom, however, is not unlimited. Jesus clearly pointed out that God’s requirements include some simple commandments. For example, Jesus said to his disciples: “This is my commandment, that you love one another just as I have loved you.” (John 15:12) Imagine what life would be like if everyone applied that commandment! Hence, the freedom that Christians enjoy is not without limitations. The apostle Peter wrote: “Be as free people, and yet holding your freedom, not as a blind for badness, but as slaves of God.”​—1 Peter 2:16.

Thus, even though Christians are not bound by a detailed list of laws, they do not act according to their own ideas of right and wrong. Humans need the guidance that only God can give them. The Bible plainly states: “It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step.” (Jeremiah 10:23) If we obey God’s direction, we will benefit greatly.​—Psalm 19:11.

One of the benefits is happiness. The young man mentioned at the outset, for example, had been a thief and a liar. He was also promiscuous. Upon learning the Bible’s high standards, he changed his way of life to conform to them. “Although I was not able to follow all of the Bible’s standards at once,” he said, “I did understand their value. My previous way of life did not produce the happiness that I now enjoy. Living  according to Bible standards simplifies your life. You know where you are headed and what is right and what is wrong.”

Millions of people have had a similar experience. Among other things, the guidance found in the Bible has helped them to enjoy improved human relations, to cultivate a balanced view of work, to refrain from habits that are harmful, and thus to live a happier life. Markus, * a young man who has lived both with and without Bible standards, says of his own life: “By living according to the Bible, I have been able to improve my self-respect.” *

What Is Your Choice?

So is the Bible restrictive? The answer is yes​—for the benefit of all of us. But is the Bible too restrictive? The answer is no. Unlimited freedom leads only to difficulties. The Bible’s standards are balanced, and they promote our well-being and happiness. Markus says: “Time has proved the wisdom of applying God’s Word in life. Although in many ways my life is different from that of people in general, I don’t think for a moment that I have missed out on anything worthwhile in life.”

When you begin to experience the blessings of living by Bible standards, your appreciation for God’s Word will increase. This will lead to an even greater blessing​—you will come to love its divine Source, Jehovah God. “This is what the love of God means, that we observe his commandments; and yet his commandments are not burdensome.”​—1 John 5:3.

Jehovah is both our Creator and our heavenly Father. He knows what is best for us. Rather than restrict us, he gives us loving direction for our good. In poetic language Jehovah urges us: “O if only you would actually pay attention to my commandments! Then your peace would become just like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea.”​—Isaiah 48:18.

[Footnotes]

^ par. 13 The name has been changed.

^ par. 13 For more information about the way of life outlined in the Bible, see chapter 12 of the book What Does the Bible Really Teach? published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

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Jesus said that God’s requirements would be refreshing

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Obeying God’s direction brings happiness and self-respect