Madame Kovarian: The anger of a good man is not a problem. Good men have too many rules.
The Doctor: Good men don’t need rules. Today is not the day to find out why I have so many.
I reflect on this quote a lot. It’s a powerful quote from a powerful episode. In “A Good Man Goes to War,” The Doctor is forced to come face to face with the man that he has become, and what his reputation is doing to the people that he loves. We see this in a lot of different ways over the course of the episode, culminating in River’s long lecture to the doctor at the end of the whole affair. But long before that, right here, in his most triumphant moment, we see that in a way, the Doctor doesn’t need any lecturing.
He’s terrified of himself.
Over and over again, throughout the Doctor’s story, we see a man from another world who operates by a code all his own. This code brings him into conflict with evildoers, with victims, and even with his own companions. I’m not an expert on classic Who, but I feel like this is especially true in the new series, after the time war and the genocide of the Time Lord race. He gets on his moral high horse a lot, and he only compromises his convictions in the most extreme of situations. And it is because he is so very afraid of the man that he can become if he lets himself, if he lets go of those standards for even a moment.
Because he’s right–good men don’t need rules. But I sure do.
I think this is why the Israelites celebrated God’s gift of the Law. We underestimate its magnificent value, to them and to us. The rules give us a sense of our limits. They teach us the best ways to operate. They help to draw forth the highest points of humanity, and help to conceal or diminish the great depths to which we can plunge if left unchecked.
The rules, a sort of mental checklist of what “being good” is and isn’t, have been a great safehaven for me over the years. I truly believe that I value them for the same reason the Doctor does: I am terrified of what I might become if I didn’t have them to rein me in. The idea of a Spirit-led life still scares me to death, even years after I knelt at the altar and asked God to sanctify me. And yet the Spirit-led life promises a life far more beautiful and liberating than my self-imposed prison of rules could ever offer.
God longs to, by His Holy Spirit, make me into that “good man.” The kind of person who doesn’t need rules, who need not build walls around myself to keep myself from hurting anybody. The commitment to that journey happens in an instant–I am thankful to know that, by God’s grace, I began that journey many years ago. But the transformation is something of a paradox–that tension between the “already” and the “not yet,” Where God does an amazing work in my life every single day and yet I must continue to surrender to him areas of life that he sheds light on. This is, of course, a topic that far better writers and theologians than I have devoted entire books to, so I won’t attempt to expound upon all the details of the holy life in this little blog post. Suffice to say, I think that the Doctor really nails it with this quote.
I know that I will never be “good” of my own strength. Our Lord Himself affirmed that nobody is good except for our Father in heaven. But I am grateful to know that He makes me good, by the power of His Spirit, and frees me from the prison of rules that I construct for myself out of fear and shame.