“Why then the law?” This has been the question that we have been addressing over the past few weeks and have looked ever so briefly at some of the issues surrounding the question in the history of the church. However, as has been pointed out, the Law is certainly not limited to Christian interpretation, as all religious systems are built as, in effect, ways of addressing what the Apostle Paul says is the “law written on the heart.” Lest we think that this is only a problem for the religious, all we have to do is observe what can only be called the “religious fervor” of ardently non-religious people lining up in righteous condemnation of any of those people who refuse to buy carbon offsets or recycle. Hell hath no fury like the 99% scorned, it appears. This brings us back to our question, because if the law is universal, AND a desire to be rid of this law—to have its demands fulfilled—is also common to all people, then we can begin to see clearly its relationship to the message of the Gospel, the message that in Jesus, the law has come to an end.
At this point, though, we need to be careful not to make the fateful mistake that many have and equate the condemnation and demand of the law with moral exhortations, because then we miss the truly radical demand of the law that is encapsulated in the 1st commandment, namely, “You shall have no other Gods.” The audacity of this demand is tested in each and every generation of people who, when looking at their own lives and their immanent death and while enduring “wars and rumors of wars,” feel a sense of righteous indignation rising up within them and they become the accusers of God who put him/it/her/them on trial for their crimes against humanity. In light of this, people either reject God—a’la Richard Dawkins and co—OR, they create other religious systems that excuse God from any complicity in human suffering and the state of the world. But here’s the catch—these are the same moves. The former is simply more honest about the anger of self-awareness than the latter, but both are essentially the resigned sigh of agnostic despair. Remember what the Apostle Paul said, quoting Dave Matthews, that if Jesus has not been raised, then we should all eat, drink and be merry, because tomorrow we die. Hooray.
This is why Christian discipleship in light of the law is not based upon appeals to one’s own personal holiness, piety or good works, but to hope. We stand with those who uphold the law, which is Love after all, and affirm all its works in and around us, but we know that the law only has one real function this side of heaven and that is to point to Jesus as its fulfillment. Ultimately, the demands of the law, i.e., Love, will be turned on God himself and he will come out to be seriously deficient in this category. “If I were God, I’d do it differently,” is a common refrain, and one that is not even foreign to Jesus himself as one who so prayed, “take this cup (of impending death) from me.” However, Jesus was the FIRST one to realize that suffering and death are the very enemies against which his life would prove to be an enduring, victorious witness and have been the cornerstone of the Christian witness from that day onward. This is not to minimize the deep questions that are brought up by the existence of evil, suffering, and death, but in the face of these realities the Christian witness is not one-sided, because while they have not been fully explained, they have been addressed.
Why then the law? Well, without it, like those who worship nature, we would suffer in the midst of our long march towards death, waiting vainly for it to speak a word of comfort (or any word at all!) along our way. The demand of the Law, as one of the two words of God, contains within it a promise of its fulfillment because—contra Kant—it comes from outside of us, and if a voice comes from outside, then perhaps there is someone up there and after this after all. The God behind this faceless and pervasive demand, however, took flesh and spoke again in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus as that Gospel message that silences the fear of the unknown God. In Jesus, God has spoken loudly to the world that “in this world you will have trouble, but take heart, for I—the one who has not let you go, who has not left the wheel and is coming back to make things right—I have overcome the world.” Thanks be to God.