Tuesday, January 21, 2020

In Need of the Law

The law was never God's idea. It's not how He wanted His people to live with Him or with each other. He didn't want to have to dictate, down to the letter, what was right and what was wrong, what was good and what was evil. And you'd think that if His people disobeyed Him and ate a piece of fruit that would give them all knowledge of good and evil, He wouldn't have to. You'd think we'd just know.

But we don't seem to.

Actually, that's not quite true. We do know right from wrong. We do know good from evil. It's just that knowing what is good is not enough to make us do it, and knowing what is evil is not enough to make us not do it. And that, Paul says, is exactly why we need the law. If, he says in Romans 7, you do what you know is wrong, you confess that you need the law.

Not because we don't know what is right or wrong, good or evil, but because in our fallen selves, we have no motivation to do good or to avoid evil unless there is some kind of consequence for doing so. The law provides the consequence, good or bad. The law lays out exactly what will happen if we do good or do evil.

Most specifically, the law lays out exactly what will happen to us as a result of our actions, which seems to be what most of us are most concerned with.

It's because even though we know good and evil, we don't comprehend their real impact on the world around us or even on our own selves. Good is often self-sacrifical; it doesn't make sense if we're a people trying to look out for ourselves. Evil is often self-centered; we do horrible things to one another, often for the mere sake of trying to improve our own lot. This is why evil so often convinces us of its good - because we often reap some benefit, at least initially, from our own evil - and why evil convinces us that good isn't all it's cracked up to be - what's in it for us?

But this is also why we, who live under grace, still have the law today. It's why we keep on making rules where Jesus tore them down. It's why we can't seem to just do the most basic thing that God asked us to do - love God and love others - without quantifying and qualifying everything. On our own, we continue to do what we know is wrong, and in doing so, we confess that we need a law.

We need pressure from the outside to keep us in our lane. We need some standard by which to judge what we're doing, a standard that clearly says what good gets you and what evil gets you in this broken world where they all-too-often seem to be backward. We need to know exactly what we're getting into before we get into it so that we're all clear what the rules are. And we tell ourselves that this...this will help us to know what love is. The rules we create for ourselves, the law we write, will teach us love.

Even though Jesus Himself said that love is the law.

Here's the thing: the law is fairly simple. It's straightforward. It's neat and tidy. Love? Grace? These are messy things. Good? Good is messy, too. It's not clear. It's not black and white. It's not if-this-then-that living. Love is not transactional. That's what makes it so hard for our wounded minds to wrap around it. It can't be counted or calculated or assessed. It just...is. It's just...love.

We pass persons all the time we could love on, if we'd just stop and do it. It's really not that hard. You see someone with holes in their shoes on a snowy winter day, and it's clear that love is to give that person better shoes. But should we? Can we? It's a little messy, it seems. So we wrote a law - if you see your brother in need, meet his need. Ah, yes, okay. I should give my brother some shoes. Now, it's a rule to live by.

It only seems logical and natural that if we borrow something and break it, we ought to replace it. It was not, after all, ours, and the person who had it clearly needed it or they wouldn't own it. So love says you make sure he keeps what he's got, that you give back to someone who lends to you. But it's messy to give someone a replacement for something. It's messy to give a new in place of the old, even if it's the same basic thing. It's messy to confess that we broke what was entrusted to us. The whole thing, it's just messy, and messy makes it hard. So we wrote a law because we couldn't just do what is right and good to do. We wrote a law and we said that if you borrow something and it breaks, then you have to replace it. Ah, yes, then I should buy my brother a new one. And he will accept it. Because it's the law.

Forget that it should be love.

We've made this whole life of ours into law, and it was never meant to be that way. Not in a million years. Jesus came to simplify everything, to boil the law down into its most basic commands, but we couldn't even leave it at that. We went about building it right back up, detailing more and more who we should love and how we should love them and what is truth and what is grace and who and what and when and why and how and Jesus is basically screaming at us, and Paul condemns us in his words - if you can't do what you know is right, and if you keep doing what you know is wrong, then you confess that grace is not enough for you. Love is not enough for you. You confess that you need the law, the very thing Jesus came to make easier for you. And you've made it complicated again.

What a weird people we are. 

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