Were Rules Made to be Broken?

Is Michael Masi God? If you have never heard of Michael Masi, then clearly you were not watching the final race of the Formula 1 season last Sunday when an extremely controversial decision he took as Race Director effectively allowed Max Verstappen to win the race, even though Lewis Hamilton had led almost from the start with an increasingly commanding lead. Thereby Masi effectively handed the world championship to Max Verstappen and deprived Hamilton of what would have been a record-breaking 8th title. Even though it was ‘only a race’, the outcome was actually deeply upsetting to watch.

My opening question arises from the stewards’ response when Mercedes, Hamilton’s team, challenged Masi’s seemingly arbitrary decision to let some, but not all, unlapped cars overtake the safety car which had been deployed following an accident. Had all the lapped cars overtaken the safety car and taken up their position behind the leaders, as the rules stipulated, the race would have ended behind the safety car and Hamilton would have won. Instead, Masi effectively ignored the rules to put Verstappen and Hamilton neck and neck for one final racing lap, with Verstappen having the massive advantage of being on fresh tyres.

The stewards’ defence of Masi was that the regulations give the Race Director ‘overriding authority’ on the deployment of the safety car. However, the reference to ‘overriding authority’ clearly addresses the working relationship between the Race Director and the Clerk of the Course. To claim that Masi’s authority gives him the right simply to ignore or override the safety car rules is a serious misinterpretation of the regulations.

Is Boris Johnson God? No, thankfully! But if he is not God, then he is not above the rules that he himself has made. We wait to see whether it transpires that he, or his team at no. 10 have broken any Covid regulations, or whether it will be argued that no rules were broken because some kind of loophole means that the rules do not apply to gatherings in nos. 10 and 11 Downing Street.

Because God is God, he is not bound by any rules: he alone has complete authority to do whatever he pleases. He is the ultimate sovereign. Does that mean that whatever God does is good and right, just because God does it? If so, then something would be good purely and simply on the basis that God does it, in which case to call God ‘good’ would be pretty meaningless. On the other hand, if there is some standard of goodness that we can use to measure God and hold him to account, is God still God, the ultimate Lord and sovereign? In philosophical terms, this is known as Euthyphro’s Dilemma.

Can this question be resolved? The most literal (and accurate) translation of Psalm 138:2 is provided by the Authorised Version: ‘I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.’ Here the psalmist praises God for his lovingkindness and his truth on the basis that God has exalted his word above his own name. What does that mean? It means that God has bound himself to his word. He remains true to what he has said; he keeps his promises. He does not exercise his sovereign right to do whatever he wants. That is why the psalmist can celebrate God’s lovingkindness and his truth.

Because that is the case, one of the things we can celebrate this Christmas is God’s faithfulness to his promises in sending Jesus his Son to be our Saviour. God keeps his word. He has done so in the past and we can be confident that he will continue to do so in the future. His authority consists, not in overriding or ignoring rules, but in staying completely true to his word. That is what makes God trustworthy, and worthy of our worship this Christmas season.