An Impractical Guide to Personal Freedom

Trading the Book of Law for the One Agreement Necessary

Blake Nail / 11.1.21

A practical guide to personal freedom has sold nine million copies in the United States and seven million worldwide. For ten years it sat on the New York Times bestseller list, could be read in forty-six different languages and is the thirty-sixth bestselling book of the decade. That’s quite a list of stats for a guide to freedom. Especially when we live in a culture and world that doesn’t seem to be experiencing such a freedom. We are all riddled with fear, panic, judgment, anger and a host of other terrible traits. Yet, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz sits on the bookshelves and promises us personal freedom.

Okay, I’m not trying to trash or ridicule this book. Let’s get that out of the way quickly. I guarantee there are enough articles and posts by Christians who have made their arguments for why this book will be burning in the pits of hell with the rest of the sinners. This is not that kind of post. In fact, I rather enjoyed the four points of wisdom within the book. But before I get to those, let’s begin with the opening chapter. It reads as if someone at Mockingbird themselves could’ve written it. Ruiz begins by describing what he calls, the Book of Law:

There is something in our minds that judges everybody and everything, including the weather, the dog, the cat — everything. The inner Judge uses what is in our Book of Law to judge everything we do and don’t do, everything we think and don’t think, and everything we feel and don’t feel. Everything lives under the tyranny of this Judge. Every time we do something that goes against the Book of Law, the Judge says we are guilty, we need to be punished, we should be ashamed. This happens many times a day, day after day, for all years of our lives.

If this isn’t an accurate portrayal of the human condition, I’m not sure what is. Ruiz nails it, perfectly outlining the law and its ever-present weight on our shoulders. And he continues to discuss it, laying out how having such a Book of Law makes us feel safe. As if we have some sort of control over life. He also points out that when we break the law, we suffer continually instead of just one time. The law reminds us of a mistake over and over and we use the law to remind others of their mistakes over and over. A continual pattern of suffering under the law.

Ruiz then proceeds to break down his solution for this problem of the Book of Law. He suggests, well, you guessed it: The Four Agreements.

  1. Be impeccable with your word.
  2. Don’t take anything personally.
  3. Don’t make assumptions.
  4. Always do your best.

Now, I’d like to point out that these are well made points. Great agreements to make with one’s self. Personally, I took account of where I fall short of these often in my life. There are countless times I’ve said things I shouldn’t have (or not said things I should’ve), taken the smallest things personally, made wild assumptions about people I didn’t know and half-assed quite a few things in my life. Biblically, these are fairly sound agreements as well. In the New Testament, Paul talks about taming your tongue, not prejudging or assuming, letting God’s opinion be the final verdict (not taking things personally) and one could say striving to be like Christ is doing your best.

But like I’ve found out, and surely, you have as well — our best is not enough. Ruiz puts it in the book as if we’d never thought of such a thing. But the vast majority of us have been trying our best. Unfortunately, for most of us, our best was not enough to keep the marriage intact. It wasn’t sufficient to keep a stable relationship with our child or parent. And unfortunately for some, it’s not enough for us to enjoy who we see in the mirror.

In one sense, Ruiz has traded one Book of Law for another. But this is not how the Book of Law works. It will find you even once you’ve set up new agreements to enhance your life. The argument is if one does the last agreement, always doing your best, then you will not be burdened by the law because you know you did your best. But this doesn’t help when the weight of knowing your best is not enough is crippling.

This isn’t just a Ruiz issue. There is another book which has sold more than five billion copies. This book also promises freedom and yet most who claim it is their life source, still struggle to find such freedom. The Bible has been used as a bait and switch for more law. It’s often promised as freedom from sin, but instantly becomes another ladder for climbing to achieve righteousness. It’s how the church often views the problem of salvation or the judgment of the law. We think “well, we weren’t good enough before but now we have Jesus and if we try harder, perhaps we can be righteous enough.” Both Ruiz and common American Christianity have followed a similar tradition of the scribes and Pharisees, and we know what Jesus had to say about their proselytizing …

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. (Mt 23:15)

It should be stated that agreements are not all around a terrible thing. There is actually an agreement that I believe leads to a true freedom. But this agreement has little to do with our interactions or personal agreeing with it. It’s an agreement that occurs, if I may borrow the language of the great Robert Farrar Capon, among the pillow talk of the Trinity.

An agreement that grace is extended when we aren’t impeccable with our word and when we are and look down at others who lack impeccability. Where mercy is bestowed freely upon those of us who takes things severely personal, where comments ruin us. And to those who fling such personal attacks on others. It’s an agreement which laughs at those who assume things about others and opens its arms to such trespassers, and to those who boast about never making such an assumption. And for those of us who have tried our best and utterly failed, it agrees to unconditionally love us. It even includes those who do their best, so much so they begin to think their best is better than everyone else’s. You are loved as well.

You see, this agreement isn’t one we have contributed to. But it is one we share the benefits of. It’s an agreement that leaves us, with our heap of broken agreements and failed attempts, sitting underneath the outstretched arms of a welcoming God. A God who says true freedom is found not in a new Book of Law but rather in the fulfillment of it. A Book of Law that doesn’t accuse and point fingers or suggest a new agreement, but points to the one made already and closes shut for good. This freedom isn’t practical, it’s rather unpractical and antithetical to what were used to. But one thing is for certain, it’s good news to weary ears who’ve only heard law after law and those of us stuck sitting in the terrible company of our broken agreements. Lifting our eyes from our captivity, we see a glorious agreement to which we’ve been bound forever. And maybe then, we can truly find freedom.

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