Everything the Lord has created is governed by laws. For example, physical things are governed by physical laws (with the law of gravity being one we become well acquainted with from our earliest years). He has also given a set of spiritual laws that govern our spiritual progress. Of all of the things He has created, one of the ways He set humankind apart was by giving us the choice whether to follow that set of laws. The Parable of the Robot alludes to the placement of the Lord’s laws in us individually.
Our Father in Heaven doesn’t intend for His spiritual laws to be external forces acting upon us to drive our behavior, nor is it sufficient to treat them like clothes or jewelry worn only to affect how others perceive us. When the Israelites neared the end of their probation in the wilderness and prepared to enter the promised land, Moses reviewed the law they had received from the Lord and would be required to follow for the next 14 centuries. He directed them:
And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:
And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.
And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.Deuteronomy 6:6–8
Thus came about the phylactery, a small container of minute copies of the Mosaic law that Israelites wore on their foreheads and attached to their wrists. However, by Jesus’s time, many of the leaders of the Jewish church had modified their clothing to advertise their religious devotion, and He said:
But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,
And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues,
And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.Matthew 23:5–7
When Jesus exposed their hypocrisy, these leaders bristled and plotted against Him. They had resisted the Lord’s promise to Ezekiel that “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). Why is a “heart of flesh” important? It can be penetrated by the Holy Ghost and have God’s law impressed upon it. Similar to the early versions of the robot and its programming in the parable, however, the Pharisees and other leaders of the Jews wore God’s law outwardly but had never allowed it to penetrate into their hearts. They were more interested in putting on a show than in developing true devotion. Perhaps the person who coined the phrase “wearing my religion on my sleeve” was thinking of them or knew someone like them.
The apostle Paul was teaching the Corinthians this principle when he wrote: “Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart” (2 Corinthians 3:3).
For God, what’s in our hearts weighs far more than what is outwardly visible. He desires that our behavior be driven by sincere desire to serve Him and bring light to others, by our love toward Him and them—an inward impetus that cannot easily be shaken, disrupted, or damaged.
Not that this is a simple matter for most of us. Which brings me to another perspective on the parable of the robot.
It could also describe Heavenly Father’s work over time to improve each of us personally. While He is the Governor of the universe and certainly many things could occupy His attention, His divine priority is His children. We could think of this world as His workshop as He works tirelessly toward a new and improved version of each of us. Just as designing and building a robot is a project needing attention to detail, and it cannot be completed hastily or immediately, we are His personal projects. He will work through as many iterations as he needs to while there is still time.
This parable should not be construed to mean that I believe Heavenly Father wants us to become robots relative to His will, acting only according to some sort of preprogramming and never choosing for ourselves. This is contrary to His plan for our growth and development. He wants us to choose Him because we want to and need to. In that process of learning to choose Him and His spiritual laws, we will be much more likely to be profitable to God—and to find fulfillment and peace for ourselves—if His commandments and His will become inseparable from our own desires and goals.
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