I was enjoying one of my favourite pastimes … browsing in a bookstore, when I spotted a paperback version of the Canadian Criminal Code. Flipping through the four hundred-page book, reading here and there, I realized that I did not have the time or interest to learn all of those laws. Looking around at all the other potential criminals in the bookstore, they appeared to be fine Canadian citizens, even though I very much doubted they had any more knowledge of the laws contained in that fat book, than I.
Back in the early 1970’s, during my first few years in university, I boarded with a nice family with four children. The couple next door never broke the law, so far as I was aware, but they were nasty neighbours.
So, this raises a question, if we can have fine, upstanding and likeable citizens who are largely ignorant of the hundreds of laws drafted by their governments, and if we can also have law-abiding citizens who make for mean and unfriendly neighbours, then what is the purpose of all of those laws?
Odd as it may seem …
Strangely (or maybe not so strangely), criminal laws were never drafted to describe what a fine, upstanding citizen should look like. Instead, they define what is unacceptable in our society – the boundary beyond which no good citizen should go.
It is the same for moral absolutes. They tell us when one is going in the wrong direction, but they are not particularly useful in telling us how to experience a fulfilling relationship with God. For that, we need something positive, summarized by Christ … love God with all of our heart, soul and mind, and love our fellow human beings as we do ourselves.(1) We can call these two commands God’s divine law. The distinguishing feature between God’s divine law and the moral law is that the moral law tells us what not to do; the divine law tells us what we ought to do. One points us in the positive direction, the other points in the negative direction.
If we live our lives aimed in the positive direction of God’s divine law, living a morally pure life becomes a natural consequence of growing closer to God. In that sense, authentic Christianity is not actually centred on moral rules.
There is a growing trend within humanity, which we might call self-deification – the attitude that we need no God – we are our own saviours and we make our own rules. The fly in the ointment, however, is the moral decline of our civilization, fuelled by human nature. It is within our nature to feel we have a right to have and do whatever we want … even if it violates God’s moral law. We were born this way. As a result, society is entering its second, spoiled childhood. The primary purpose of moral absolutes, according to the Bible, is not to tell us how to live, but to make it patently obvious that we are not gods; we have fallen vastly short of the flawless beauty, justice and perfection of God.(2)
Please turn around ASAP
The second purpose of God’s moral law is analogous to what the GPS app on my smartphone sometimes tells me when I make a wrong turn. I get a, “Please turn around as soon as possible” command coming at me from the car’s speakers. Similarly, the second purpose of God’s moral law is to warn the authentic Christian when they stray from the positive direction of God’s divine law of love.
Fake Christian warning
There is a third purpose of the moral law that might be rather disturbing. It is to call out those people who believe they are Christians but, in fact, are not. Jesus said that on Judgment Day, there will be “many” people who believed they were Christians but will find out they are lost for all of eternity.(3) The symptom? They “practiced lawlessness.” When Jesus speaks of lawlessness, He is not talking about the criminal laws of a country. Rather, He is speaking about an attitude that many who believe they are Christians have, who re-interpret or set aside God’s moral laws in the Bible, in favour of what the society of the day wants or feels it has a right to have and do. That is ‘lawlessness’ from God’s perspective. Of course, one cannot go in the wrong direction without, at the same time, failing to go in the right direction. As a result, they also break God’s divine law to love God and their fellow human beings. If you find yourself affirming our society’s current trends in sexuality, in flat contradiction to God’s moral laws, or if you have little concern and little action for the spiritual and physical needs of others, then this third role of God’s moral law may be calling you out.
God’s moral laws for humanity have a similar role to the government’s criminal laws … they tell us when we are going in the wrong direction, but they are not much help in describing a fine, upstanding citizen, or a vibrant, authentic Christian. If, however, one follows the two divine commands described above, one has a better chance, as a natural consequence, of also satisfying both the criminal laws of our country as well as God’s moral absolutes.
- Matthew 22:37-40
- Romans 3:20
- Matthew 7:21-23