The problem with the law, said somebody somewhere, is that it gives us a knowledge of sin.
Oh, I know what you’re thinking. We’re born with a knowledge of sin. But are we? We’re born with sin, but not necessarily a grasp of it. It’s as my old friend BJ used to say: “We didn’t create time by building clocks. We merely found a way to measure what already was.”
Now, the knowledge of sin is a grand old thing. It gives us a better taste (or a bitter taste) of our humanity. It’s real, it’s honest, and it helps us understand Jesus’ sacrifice and redemption. If we didn’t know of sin, we wouldn’t have any reason to believe in redemption, and we wouldn’t be in any way compelled to cherish humanity, all in sum. That is, cherishing our brokenness as part of self and living out our broken lives in honest and thankful ways.
Think of it: If we didn’t have the law to make us aware of sin, we wouldn’t pay any heed to the crucifixion, we wouldn’t give two hoots about the resurrection, and we wouldn’t much care for confession and healing. We would simply plod along doing our thing. What thing might that be? Well, the fundaments of daily living I suppose. But without any form or purpose other than the basics: to eat, to sleep, to survive, to seek superficial comfort and temporal happiness.
Law, as somebody somewhere put it, is a way for us to enter into the pain and joy of our true life as children of God. Step one: recognize sin and brokenness. Step two: Realize we can’t fix that on our own. Step three: Understand Christ did that for us. Step four: Continue in life, not living according to momentary indulgences and needs, but according to the wonder and joy of being saved imperfect sons and daughters of God. That belonging is what compels us to live toward a higher purpose—to love, to build up, to support, to care for the world.
Now, on the flip side, I absolutely abhor the law. It’s not really because it points out my shortcomings (though it does that in spades), but because all people become obsessed with it. Law ceases to become a function of guidance as derivative of divine grace and mercy, but as its own demanding entity: do this, do that, don’t do this, never do that. And by association with God, law suddenly appears as a very strict rule book for entrance into God’s good graces.
I realize that what I’m articulating here is merely a recapitulation of Paul’s own message, but revelation is an ongoing thing. The gist of this one being, the New Covenant does away with the precepts of the law in favor of one truism: God loves us, and we are built to love God. You see, I think that rather than framing our “duties” and “responsibilities” as faithful servants in the context of community, we ought to hone in on our natural selves. Often, I heard the words of the liturgy ring in my ears, jarringly: “It is our duty our joy to give God thanks and praise.” Duty? Like hell. It is our joy, indeed. There is no law-bound worship worth anything—go through the motions and tell me kneeling, recitation, and pomp will get you somewhere spiritually.
My point is only that law is both a blessing and a curse. It opens up the door to our own humanity—an absolute necessity in the life of the faithful—while also tripping us up with dos and don’ts. I think it more valuable, to be quite honest, to talk about how God wells up inside each of us naturally. It’s not a matter of telling ourselves to force that welling up, but opening ourselves to enjoy it. How is God manifest in you? There is no script for it. So let it be, and share it with the world. There is no priest, minister, or rabbi who can ever say with the certainty of the law that the Lord will come to be in fixed ways in certain people. Hence, the joyous words, “The Lord works in mysterious ways.”
Go, then, and let the mystery thrive.