I believe it was Rod Rosenbladt that said we’re all natural born lawyers. We know the Law well—it is written on our very hearts. We can delineate good from bad, friend from foe, enough from not enough, and we’re especially adept when it applies to The Others. The inner lawyer knows how to separate the wheat from the chaff and, because it’s so obvious to us, we naturally think it’s our job to share its power. If we could just educate people on the Law, well, they would follow it. If we could just give some words of encouragement on how someone could improve, after they hear it, they’d actually change (and want to change!).
Unfortunately, we all know too well that even when we know our mistakes and “rooms for improvement”, we don’t get any further by knowing the problem. Like I said, we already knew the problems! (Can you say Yo Yo dieting?) We know the insufficiencies; we try our hardest to fix them, and reward ourselves with progress. But when we slide right back, we punish ourselves for missing the benchmark.
Why do we go back to the empty wells of Reward and Punishment? As natural born lawyers, it’s the basis of exchange. It’s fruitless, but it’s our currency. Don’t get me wrong, I think laws are good. They keep people healthy and safe. If I don’t enforce any eating habits at our home, a three-pound Skittles bag will bring my wife and me the punishment of some hyperactive sick kids. Rules are good, they just don’t have any inherent power in themselves. They only become helpful to those who are free.
So where does freedom and ability come from? As I’m sure you’ve heard many times at Mockingbird already, true freedom with no strings attached comes from something called agape love. It’s God’s unremitting love for his rebellious creation. It’s love that requires nothing in return and yet so often produces the fruits of gratitude and, well, love. It’s a love with no self-interest or self-reward.
It’s a love that we elementally crave and yet find completely offensive when given to The Others. Despite the fact that this love is offered for us, our inner-lawyer says they must earn it. If you don’t deserve it you shouldn’t get it—that’s only fair. When it comes to Others, we turn to the grammar of reciprocity. We suddenly find grace intolerable. We see it from afar and we think of it as “Rewarding Bad Behavior.”
A glaring example of this comes from This American Life Episode 264: “Special Treatment,” whose tagline is: “We love it when we get it, but is it ever really fair? A defense of special treatment, by people who receive it and people who give it.” In Act Two (listen to it here), we hear about a program that works gently with prisoners plagued by a mental illness. It works really well, but “there’s just one catch…prison guards hate it, because it gives inmates special treatment.” What if there was grace for prisoners? Would that just make the problem worse? When do we silence the inner-lawyer?