October 28, 2023
In the middle of the night, I was startled awake by a question that stuck in my mind: What purposes were served by the complex rituals in the Mosaic Law of the Old Testament?
First, the question has to be expanded to, “What purposes do all rituals serve?
We usually think of rituals as confined to religious practices, but there are others. It is true that all religions have rituals and I think purposes can be itemized in various settings…
When we think of rituals, we might consider an athlete’s pregame ritual. Primarily, it gets the athlete mentally focused. It gets the competitor “psyched up” for the contest.
In political circumstances, in a formal assembly, they also have ritualized procedures — like a guest who leads in a prayer, then the Pledge of Allegiance is recited, and finally the administrator thwacks the gavel on the dais, and so begins the business agenda. This ritual also has a purpose of bringing order to the initial chaos, focusing the Representatives’ thoughts, objectives, and strategies.
Socially, there are fist bumps, handshakes, hugs, and common verbal greetings. These are rituals, too. Their main purpose is to create a friendly environment for whatever activity ensues — like sharing problems, discussing solutions, or something as familiar as picnicking with family and friends, or whatever else may be on the day’s agenda.
In addition, we usually don’t think of civil laws as rituals, but the Rules of the Road, for example, are rituals supposed to focus drivers on working together and courteous behavior with others on the road.
As an aside, nowadays, the ritualized driving laws are abused regularly. The ensuing road rage incidents, great or small, offer an explanation of why the laws, as rituals, have real purposes with real consequences if drivers do not remain focused in obeying them.
So, you may already see what I am trying to get at: the purpose for Religious rituals, especially why God imposed the Mosaic Laws on the Hebrew nation of Israel. The New Testament precepts are intended to create similar rituals, today — like daily Bible reading, and talking with Jesus, and to develop beneficial habits, living out how God intends for us to live together in peace.
Biblical Laws were to get people’s attention, to focus on Him, that is to say, to focus their attention on the things of God — both His wisdom and His ways, to discover His desired relationship to be as our Father and we, as His children. We need to realize that God, who never changes, desires the same relationship with us today.
But can we focus with all the overarching distractions and the disintegration of social behaviors?
We need to understand that the ritualized procedures were not to enslave the Israelites again, nor to burden us, but they were meant to free both us and them, to protect everyone, and to show the more edifying way.
The Hebrews were soon to supplant criminal nations, and they needed to behave better than the nations they were about to supplant — otherwise they themselves would have to be replaced. This happened in the Diaspora — a hard truth.
Today, it is the same balance.
Which way will the scales tip?
To conclude, for modern Denominational Churches centered on the Bible, their rituals have had the same purposes: Focus on the ways of God, how He wants people to live, how He will show us the way to live civilized lives, how we can progress in beneficial and healthful ways, and how to work together for our own incremental benefit — both as groups and as individuals. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also must love one another.” Jesus also explained, “I have come that they may have life — and have it in all its fullness.”
Unfortunately, the repetition of rituals have made many people fall asleep in the pews. We let our minds become dull and lose our ability to think more deeply about the rituals meant to bring our focus closer to God and to the understanding of His ways and His love for each of us.
Now we just sleepwalk through the rituals.
Whatever we have heard falls to the ground like the leaves of Autumn.
The rituals seem to be dead.
But God is not dead.
Perhaps we are like those falling leaves… dead.
Yet, there is always the possibility of renewal in Springtime.
So, even though people no longer are able to understand the phrase “God is love.” and even though it appears to be that we no longer can reconcile our own earthbound, ritualized viewpoints with the view from above…
Well, it’s not unlike the first views of Earth we saw from Space where we could finally see that very thin and vulnerable blue wrapping which we depend on for our life and breath… Put your focus on Jesus, God, and the Bible, and realize we depend on them for our life and breath even more than that blue sky God created for us.
Your ritualized stupor just might dissolve, and you just might wake up with a new view.