Following the Instructions

I recently finally saw The Lego Movie. I was quite sceptical when I first heard they were making a Lego film; I figured it would be a giant marketing ploy designed to showcase all the latest sets available.

Having seen it, yeah, it’s a giant marketing ploy, but it’s done right. As in, it has a plot, it’s funny, it works with the genius of what Lego is and it actually makes sense on its own terms.

And together with a family trip to the Lego Discovery Centre that’s close to where I live,it reignited the joy of Lego that never truly died but just didn’t have much of an outlet.

Of the various themes running through it, I think the one that stands out is the conflict between rules and instructions (personified in President Business and his minions) and unleashed creativity (exemplified by Cloud Cuckoo Land and the Master Builders).

Every Lego set, of course, has its set of step-by-step instructions. How to build the X-Wing Fighter or Seaside Cottage or Batcave or Pirate Ship or whatever. These are, of course, quite necessary, otherwise you wouldn’t have a clue how to put the bricks together to get what’s on the box.

But they’re a beginning.

For me, they always were. I seldom built the thing on the box more than once, and seldom kept it built the first time more than a couple of days. A new Lego set to me was primarily a source of bricks to be used in the various Lego projects I was forever building (massive spaceships, usually). The Lego Movie character Benny, the “1980-something space guy” definitely strikes a chord.

“Spaceship!!!” (Source: Lego Wiki @

Almost everything I ever built was an original creation. There were no instructions for what I did; Lego was about building something new. I had friends who would make the thing on the box and then set it on a shelf somewhere. I never understood that impulse. I was the opposite: “Right, built that now. Let’s see what we can do with all these cool bricks!”

I was never nearly as comfortable with the Technic stuff. I was far less interested in stuff that would really work, with their rack-and-pinion steering setups and motors and pneumatic levers and whatnot. I wanted an aesthetically finished spaceship, not a go-kart that had a proper piston engine and real steering and so on. The Technic Lego was far less conducive to my aversion to following the instructions.

I almost think there are too many different sets these days. It’s nice to be able to get a Darth Vader figure that looks like Vader, but having a kit to build an X-Wing out of Lego seems almost like a betrayal of the hours I spent as a child trying to make the old-style flat hinges cooperate for an X-Wing. The fun of Lego was always seeing if you could built the AT-AT walker from The Empire Strikes Back, just using the pictures in your Star Wars collectible sticker album for reference and without any instructions. You re-enacted the lightsaber duel using the transparent antenna bricks as lightsabers. It wasn’t perfect, but part of the game was getting as close as you could. It was a challenge; it gave you something to aim for.

These days, there’s a kit for that. It’s almost as bad as mobile phone apps. Movie tie-ins seem to be the rule. I guess it makes them more money, and Lego is a business, but it’s almost as though it strikes at the heart of what Lego is.

On the other hand, the tie-in sets open up new worlds of possibility for making something original. And I have to admit that my attitude is more than a little hypocritical, because if they had come out with an X-Wing set back then, I know that I would have killed small furry animals to get one.

On a slightly more serious and less reminicsent note, I’m wondering whether my aversion to following the instructions in Lego building has carried over at all into my adult life.

There’s that Christiany saying about how the Bible is “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth”. Even in secular terms, we talk about the definitive guide book for a certain area of work being that area’s “Bible”. We as Christians talk about Scripture being “the Maker’s instructions”. If it is, what does my Lego Movie Cloud Cuckoo-esque desire to not follow the instructions say about my obedience to God?

Well, surprisingly I don’t think I have an issue with following the commands of God.

What I do have an issue with is the perspective that views the Scripture through the lens of a Lego instruction booklet.

The Bible is kind of like an instruction manual, but you have to use a broader definition of “instruction”. It’s for teaching, correcting, encouraging, and so on.

What it is categorically not is a step-by-step formula for How To Get Right With God And Live A Holy Life.

It’s full of narrative passages, and in many of them the moral lesson is not even clearly marked. It contains poetry, proverbs, prophecy, law codes for Bronze Age Israel, history and letters. Moreover, it was written in a completely different language and time period and culture, so to get from the Bible text to “what should I do about my son’s addiction to video games” takes quite a lot of interpretive stretching. We need to take on board the whole counsel of God, immerse ourselves in the thoughts of the Almighty, understand from the whole of Scripture what God is asking of us, rather than thumb through the index looking for the section on “help regarding addictions”.

I’m not saying anything that the vast majority of believers in Jesus would see as abnormal, but I do worry sometimes whether our simplified idea of “the-Bible-as-instruction-manual” isn’t overly simplistic and a promoter of sloppy thinking.

Yes, there are direct commands from God – Lego-style instructions, if you like – recorded in Scripture. But even some of these aren’t quite as straightforward as they first appear. The Deuteronomic command not to cook a young goat in it’s mother’s milk, from which our Jewish brothers and sisters get the kosher injunction to separate meat and dairy, turns out to be about a Canaanite fertility ritual. A more appropriate application may be to trust God with your fertility rather than trying to use the “magic” of Science to manipulate it. Or not; I leave it up to you.

The idea that the Bible is God’s Little Instruction Book is attractive, but only partially true. In reading it, yes you can find out How To Get Right With God And Live A Holy Life, but it’s not really laid out propositionally or in a step-by-step manner.

If it were, Christianity would be like Islam. Not that the Qur’an is laid out systematically like that either, but Islam at its root is a legal code. These are the instructions for How To Please God. Follow them and you’re righteous. The mindset is one of the Lego instruction booklet.

It’s worlds away from Biblical Christianity, which is not about doing stuff or following the instructions at all. As we like to say, it’s not about religion; it’s relationship. To quote from another kids’ movie, Toy Story 2, Biblical Christianity is living before God with a heart attitude of “You have saved our lives; we are eternally grateful”.

In essence: Don’t (merely) follow the instuctions; get to know the One who wrote the Book.


3 thoughts on “Following the Instructions

  1. Pingback: I Will Build… | The Word Forge

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