The Need for Law- Isaiah 51:4-6, 8

Hearken unto me, my people; and give ear unto me, O my nation: for a law shall proceed from me, and I will make my judgment to rest for a light of the people.
My righteousness is near; my salvation is gone forth, and mine arms shall judge the people; the isles shall wait upon me, and on mine arm shall they trust.
Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner: but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished.
For the moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm shall eat them like wool: but my righteousness shall be for ever, and my salvation from generation to generation.

COMMENTARY

For the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner.
To understand the need for God’s law, we need to appreciate that we are under another law already: that of mortality. And the final fulfillment of that law is spelled out in total clarity: heaven shall vanish away, earth shall wax old, and all of us that dwell therein shall die. These are the commandments of the earth and they are immutable.
We try to medicate ourselves into longer life, we try to cryogenically freeze our cells, we try to create a legacy to outlive us. We do all of these things to defy the doom of earth’s law, but they are, at best, very temporary solutions. If nothing else gets us, the universe is set for total entropy, which will ultimately unmake any edifice that we try to preserve ourselves in. Whether we live for ten years, a hundred, or find a way to live for a thousand, we will still die.

Hearken unto me, my people; and give ear unto me, O my nation: for a law shall proceed from me, and I will make my judgment to rest for a light of the people.
But my righteousness shall be for ever, and my salvation from generation to generation.
And now, under that context of dark gloom, God gives His divine law as a light, to provide us a hope that was impossible by any worldly means. It offers another outcome, a different destination than the silent grave.
Who can deny the worthiness of this? On these facts alone, it is a law that we should all subscribe to. It honestly wouldn’t matter what its principles and commandments were, we would be fools to not adhere to them. Any cost that it asked would be worth the outcome.

The Need for Law- Social Law vs Divine Law

Yesterday we looked at natural law, and what principles of law we can glean from it, which principles we would then expect to find in moral law as well. And yet we usually struggle to see moral law as being as “real” of a law as natural law. We see the forces of gravity and magnetism as universal and uncompromising, yet believe we can make bargains about moral rights and wrongs. Not only that, but we believe that if there are moral laws, we can transgress them, and yet avoid consequences through bargaining or concealment.

Why is this? A major reason is because we have human “laws” which defy all of the principles we found in natural law. Where the forces of nature never change, apply equally to all, and are cannot be petitioned for cancellation, both the laws of government and the trends of society do change, do not apply equally, and can be petitioned for cancellation.

Our first lesson in this likely occurred when growing in our childhood homes. Parents are forever inconsistent in how they respond to the same behaviors. Sometimes they let misdeeds slide and sometimes they don’t, they might punish incorrect behavior at a severe level one day and at a more measured level the next, sometimes they let one child get away with a certain action but never the other child. Parents can be persuaded and bargained with to let go of their principles. In short, parental law is extremely organic, based a great deal on their mood in the moment, and teaches a pattern that morals are flexible.

In school we learn about our governments, and the principles and laws upon which they are founded. We are told that those laws are meant to be administered universally and indiscriminately, but obviously they are not. Different officers and judges of the law act on different biases. What is more, their presence is not total enough to respond to all queries or misdeeds, making holes in the law’s coverage of the nation. Laws can be changed and even abolished, and the laws of one nation are different from the laws of its neighbors, an artificial boundary changing the legality of one’s behavior like the flipping of a switch. This starts to make us believe that moral law only applies so far as it can be seen. That it can be compartmentalized, hidden from, and vetoed by a strong enough consensus.

Social law, of course, is the most flimsy of all, the same behaviors being simultaneously applauded and condemned by different circles at the same time. There is absolutely no consensus whatsoever, a million different voices saying a million different things. This suggests to us that moral law is worse than organic, it is non-existent. All that we call morality is opinion, and has no universal binding whatsoever.

Our mistake is taking all these imperfect forms, and trying to extrapolate from them how Divine Law must work as well. We assume that certain commandments no longer apply, because society has come to a consensus to vote them out. We assume that if we hide our sins, then we need not pay the price of guilt. We assume that if we butter God up with love in other ways, then He might give us a pass on our misdeeds. We use the strategies that work with our fellow man, and try to apply them where they can never work. Divine Moral Law, to be Divine Moral Law, must be constant, universal, unchanging, non-negotiable, all-reaching, and all-encompassing. And even more than it needs to be all those things, we need it to be all those things. For with anything less than a totally sure foundation, nothing permanent can ever be built.

The Need for Law- The Principles of Law

Each of us is a member of our mortal world and are therefore subject to its laws of deterioration, entropy, and death. Or in other words, the laws of physics are inescapable to us. We are forever under the powers of gravity, force, action and reaction, magnetism, electricity, temperature, and everything else that is baked into the matter of this world.

We do not have to like these laws, but we do have to adhere to them, simply because we have no other choice. These laws are not elected, they just are.

These laws are impersonal and unbiased. They can work for our bad, such as tripping and being pulled by gravity into a hurtful fall. They can work for our good, such as jumping in the air and being pulled back to where its safe instead of floating out of the atmosphere.

That is the nature of pure law. It is entirely unbiased. It enacts itself the same way to a king as to a slave, and it never varies in its order. Also, it never ceases to apply. At all times and in all places the laws are in full effect. In fact, multiple separate laws may apply to the same subject at the same moment, but each will have its full realization, none will be denied effect by another. They will each control what they control, and not what they don’t.

The laws of nature not only give our world structure and predictability, they also serve as excellent schoolmasters for understanding law itself. If there is a moral law, then to be a law it must also be impersonal and unbiased, just like natural law. There can be several facets of moral law, but to be a law, then each of those facets must have full expression, with no variance in how they execute themselves on one subject or another. To be a law, moral law must apply at all times and in all places, it simply must be. Also, to be a law, it must apply to what it applies, and not to what it does not.

And that last point is why we find it far more difficult to accept the existence of moral law than natural law. For where natural law applies to the forces of nature exclusively, moral law applies to the soul exclusively. Thus we can see, hear, and touch the evidence of natural law with our external senses, but we cannot perceive the effects of moral law with our external senses. That simply is not the realm of its jurisdiction. We only perceive them in our heart. Not only that, but where the forces of natural law are often immediate, the effects of moral law are often enacted over a prolonged amount of time, making it difficult to draw the correlation of cause and effect.

But though it is harder to recognize moral law, it is still there.

The Need for Law- Question

At the end of my last study it came up how the Atonement of Jesus Christ was performed to fulfill the laws of our fallen world, while also enabling a new law, one of grace and salvation. The scriptures say a very great deal about law, and speak to a sense of system and procedure in divinity.

But at the same time, structured religion is becoming less and less popular today. People seek ways to be “spiritual not religious,” and refute the idea of a God who has terms and conditions. I do understand the reason for this, it is a very difficult thing (perhaps impossible) to not project all the limitations and flaws of our mortal laws and governments on the divine. Because we see how our attempts at structure are so flawed, we struggle to imagine what a perfect structure could be like.

But that does not mean that the perfect structure does not exist. Rather than trying to excuse ourselves from God’s law (because we cannot conceive of it properly) we should broaden our perspectives to better glimpse it. And the more we do glimpse it properly, the less hesitation we will have in being subject to it.

With this study I would like to consider what different laws are described in the scriptures and what their purposes are. I would like to consider why we need law, and why God uses this form for leading His children. Finally I would like to examine how the implementation of divine law does not preclude a divine Father being able to have a personal (and personalized) connection with each child.

I would be curious to hear how you have been able to resolve the rigidity of divine law with the warmth of paternal love. What differences are most significant to you between the Old Testament law and that of the New Testament? What reasons do you believe are behind those differences? What do you think perfect law looks like when perfectly understood?