I often have had discussions with my students as to the purpose for rules. Are rules arbitrary controls established by authority figures to subjugate their followers? Or are they means by which those who have wisdom attempt to aid and protect those around them?
Okay, in a modern political context, maybe a bit of both. But in Psalm 1 we find the following reflection: “1 Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, 2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. 3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither — whatever they do prospers. 4 Not so the wicked! They are like chaf that the wind blows away. 5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. 6 For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.”
Those who do not associate with people who are laws unto themselves will be blessed. Those who meditate on the ideals of God with flourish. Verse 2 is interesting as it does not imply “pie in the sky” with a reward will be given later, nor does it promise vast wealth along the lines of the “faithful will be materially abundantly blessed” school. Rather it is saying, that following the steady God-given course and purpose in life allows for a measure of comfort and fruitfulness. This is the prosperity of what is needed.
My students at times have said that if we are free moral agents we should then indeed be free to do as we please, and to go after those things we want. Okay, as such a morally-free being you can. But if the desires of your heart are arbitrary (see here is where the word arbitrary really comes into play), we must suffer the consequences not only of our own “unfettered” actions, but those of other free-agents as well. What is the result? “Not so the wicked! They are like chaf that the wind blows away.”
This in part is the law of natural and logical consequences. If you are out in dark alleys in the wee hours, in the company of those who do not value your rights, there seems to be a greater chance of something untoward happening to you, than if you were snugly in bed with a good book.
God’s laws (if followed) offer us protection. Here we have a potential double fulfillment of the words of verse 6. We know on the one hand that “every hair on our heads is counted,” and “not even a sparrow falls without His knowledge.” Herein is His guiding and protecting hand. But also His laws, guidance, and examples place us in a literal haven as well (as noted above). Evil, and even merely self-serving actions do lead to destruction in many cases.
We can find virtue in the order that God has established for us. In that virtue we find care and safety. Human rules may well be self-serving, but God’s guidance offers sanctuary.