Editor's Note: Apologies for not getting this posted in time. The author submitted it in plenty of time but due to circumstances, etc. it is only going up now.
The Law. What a ponderous appellation that is. In fact, it’s hard not say it out loud without lowering one’s voice a few semi-tones: “The Laaaaaaw.” Oh, the swell of emotions this topic inspires. The comments that will indubitably follow this missive, electrically charged on both sides. “The Law represents all that is good and right and lovely.” “It’s unachievable.” “It creates order.” “It has been nailed to the cross.” “It is the expression of God.” “We’re under grace.” “It shows us the way to go.” “It’s legalistic.” “It’s required.” “It’s impossible.”
Last Sabbath afternoon, my five-year-old started singing the song Let It Go, from the movie Frozen. Her seven-year-old brother took issue with it and reminded her that it was Sabbath. In the very doting and concerned way that big brothers have, of course. Instead of stopping, she got louder. His reminder became less gentle – as did her warbling. Soon, fists were flying, a great wailing arose and the stress and anger that ensued proved to be a bigger disruption to everyone’s Sabbath tranquility than the song had. Oh, but he proved his point. Well, sort of. She stopped singing, anyway. When Jesus told us to “become as little children” (Matt. 18:3), I don’t think this is what he had in mind. But for many, it kind of sums up a certain negative reputation that has attached itself to the law: namely, the penchant some people have of using it as a power tool to control or subvert other people. And there’s no denying that this has been happening, sometimes on a grand scale, for several thousand years. For many others, it’s a high ground. A reason to be smug; superior, even. Like a secret handshake. You know it, and you’re in. You don’t, and you can’t be in the special club.
But is that the point of The Law? Is that what it was established for? Is it something God made to give Him a standard by which to separate the good from the bad, the saved from the lost? Is it to be some sort of punishing, Medieval gauntlet to run, where only the strongest, who are able to make it out the other side, survive? Was The Law delivered to the Children of Israel merely in order to get them (and us) on the right path or was it, in fact, a formal introduction to who God is? A discourse on what He meant by “I Am?” In other words, is The Law a creation of God, or an extension of Him?
As good Seventh-day Adventists, we’re all familiar with Exodus 20. It’s The Ten Commandments Chapter. But if you have a closer look at the introduction to the Ten Commandments in Verses 1-2, they are introduced not as a set of rules, with a cautionary warning of, “keep this or else,” but as a continuation of who God is: “And God spake all these words, saying, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage,” and then straight into, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me…” (Ex. 20:3). It is God, saying, “this is who I am.” In fact, in Exodus 20 there is no reference to them being “commandments,” at all. It’s a law, yes. Is there an expectancy that these commands will be kept? I believe so. But I read something richer than that in those words. I see a glimpse of God himself; a transcription of God’s nature.
“But,” I hear you query, “I thought God was love, not law.” Good point. But what if Love and The Law are different parts of the same concept? So the law isn’t there merely to curtail us, but to liberate us? To bring us, as God’s introductory words express, out of the house of (sinful) bondage? Not to discourage us with a list of things we can’t possibly live up to, but to give us an understanding of God’s perfection. “Do not think I have come to get rid of what is written in the Law or in the Prophets. I have not come to do that. Instead, I have come to give full meaning to what is written,” Jesus says in Matthew 5:17 (NIV). He gave full meaning to what was written, not because He worked really hard at not making any mistakes, but because that’s just who He was. Love and law, combined.
If that was too subtle, He spells it out in Matthew 22:36-40, when asked by a religious leader, which was the great commandment. “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (KJV). Love for God and love for man. The commandments are a how-to list on accomplishing that. Is it not just a little bit ironic, then, that this set of commands, given to us to help us show real, godly love, has become such a divisive topic among Christians? Whatever side of the argument we take, as we study this coming week’s lesson, let’s remember that the original point of The Law was to promote love and harmony, not anger and discord.
Let us become like little children in matters of trust and faith, but save the temper tantrums for the truly little ones.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6240