Remember Hoss, Adam, and Little Joe, the three brothers from Bonanza that looked as much like siblings as the Three Stooges? How about Laura Ingles with her bouncy braids flying down a hill in the opening credits of Little House on the Prairie? Or the closing lines “Goodnight, Mary Ellen”, “Goodnight, Jim-Bob”, “Goodnight, John-boy” of The Waltons?

Ah, those were the days when life was simple and a man’s word was his bond. Or at least television drama portrayed it that way. I guess every generation looks back on its youth and ponders the same thought—things aren’t what they were when we were kids.

I don’t know. People have been killing each other since…well, since the first family. I don’t think man’s violence against himself has changed all that much except now we’ve learned to record it, digitize it, and send it via satellite across the globe so everyone can watch the genocide in Dafur from the comfort of their own living room.

One of the things I admired so much about the “old days”, or the televised version of them anyway, was the genuineness of the male role models–Ben Cartright (Lorne Greene), Charles Ingells (Michael Landon), and John Walton, Sr. (Ralph Waite). They were so trustworthy and solid. They were the walls that protected their family. When they called, everybody came. When they stepped into a fray, you knew everything was going to be okay. When they made a promise, you knew they’d die before they’d break it.

You gotta admire that especially nowadays when infidelity is as popular as Blackberries, copying (i.e., stealing) music and movies over the Internet is as common as Starbucks, and “pure” is the new four-letter word high school kids get stigmatized for.

What a breath of fresh air it is to find someone with character. Someone who says what they mean and means what they say. Someone who doesn’t have to “prove” they’ll keep their word by swearing by their Aunt Tillie’s grave, their great-grandfather’s Bible, or worse, God Almighty himself.

Jesus admonished his followers in Matthew 5:33-37 not to swear and not to make an oath, but to simply let their “yes” be “yes” and their “no” be “no”. Yet in Genesis 22:16, God himself swears he will keep a promise to Abraham. What’s up with that? Can there be a contradiction in the scriptures? Can the sun rise in the west?

I don’t think so.

Because we are weak, fallible, and reliably unreliable, we make commitments and then seal them with an oath (i.e., Aunt Tillie) so people will believe us. Does that mean when we say we’re going to do something and we don’t promise it in conjunction with the King James sitting on the coffee table, we really won’t do it? Or if we vow to our spouse or kids or boss that we will fulfill an obligation and we don’t add God’s name as a silent witness to the agreement, that we are not responsible for fulfilling it? If so, then NOTHING we say can be trusted.

Who wants to live like that? Or worse, who wants to live with a person like that?

I’m a self-confessed legalist. And while it can be ridiculous sometimes—I felt guilty for an entire year after not reporting the retail sale of a box of Double-Mint gum on my quarterly sales tax report—legalism has some merit. For example, as a legalist you will break your back to keep your word because quite frankly the subsequent guilt for not fulfilling it can make you feel like you’re a mile under the Atlantic without a submersible.

I have a few friends that are just the opposite; they’re floating a mile up in the clouds with only a thread of conscientiousness fixing them to the earth. Sometimes I envy them. They seem like such happy people. Things just don’t seem to bother them. They’re the ones who turn their taxes in just before midnight on April 15th. They always show up ten minutes late for the movies. They take all the toiletry samples from their hotel room, even the ones they’ll probably never use. But most of the time when they say they’re going to do something, they do to it…eventually.

I just don’t get that. That may be why I also have to practice yoga three times a week as well as practice my pranayamas (breathing exercises) whenever I do my bills. Seventy-four dollars here, breath-in. One hundred and twenty-seven dollars there, breath-out. Paying my bills on time—even when I have more month left at the end of my money—is akin to keeping the Ten Commandments or not leaving dirty dishes in the sink.

So if Jesus, the antithesis of legalism and God as flesh, said not to make oaths after God the Father did it in Genesis, does that mean that the two aren’t in sync? Naw. See, we erringly use oaths today to validate we’re speaking the truth because so many of us don’t. We swear on something greater than ourselves as a witness. But there is no one greater than God and he always tells the truth. His record is flawless. How ironic that we who “need” it as proof of our truthfulness are forbidden to swear while God who is perfect doesn’t need to and yet did it anyway.

Now, admittedly as I approach 50 with a memory that may not be what it was in the good ole days, I still don’t recall any of my favorite television patriarchs ever making a promise with anything more than a word and handshake.

I think Jesus would have liked that. Sitting down on a Sunday evening with the family and watching even fictional men of character. Then afterward, he and the rest of his brothers and sisters would have climbed the stairs before settling into their beds for the night. I can hear it…“Goodnight, James. Goodnight, Joseph. Goodnight, Jesus.”
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