Perhaps it may turn out a sang,
Perhaps turn out a sermon.

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Goodness of the Law

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.  More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. – Psalm 19:7-10

I have been reading my new Lewis book this week, mostly from Reflections of the Psalms.  One of the chapters is called “Sweeter Than Honey”, referring to the passage quoted above.  This kind of exultation over the Law is common in the Psalms, and Lewis explores it.  As he says, The Order of the Divine mind, embodied in the Divine Law is beautiful. 

The commandments are more than good rules for living or a means of getting to heaven.  By His statutes and precepts, in all their intricacies, God pulls back the veil and allows us to catch a glimpse of how He thinks, what is important, what offends Him, what He loves.  I remember walking around our old house after my mother passed away.   I was reminded at every turn how she looked at the world and what mattered to her.  Someone with an observant eye would come into my office and know all kinds of things about me by the books on the shelves, the pictures and things displayed.  Possibly this would cause them to run from the room screaming.  But they’d know.

The Law is sweet because it is a revelation of the Divine nature, but also because through it, we see how a man might please God.  This is how we know God is not a goddess:  He just comes out and tells us what He wants.  We may not find obedience easy, but we can be certain of what is being asked of us. 

Beyond that, and this goes to the quote above about the beauty of the Divine Law, just as there is elegance in a mathematical equation and the laws of physics, there is a delightful rightness about the Law of God.  When we see, not just the wisdom of the commandment, but the truth that is unveiled by it, we may well experience the joy expressed by those ancient poets. 

It is true, as Lewis points out, that God’s rules are good but not just because God says so.  God can’t just make anything be the Law and still be God.  This is a view taken by what Lewis describes as some “terrible theologians” back in the eighteenth century who insisted that “God did not command certain things because they are right, but certain things are right because God commanded them.” That’s a misunderstanding better suited to Islam.  God’s commands are consistent with who He is – the Good, as well as with – for want of a better way to say it – the way things are. 

Thus, if a person pores over the Law, he begins to see the solid reality that underlies, shapes, and supports all of existence, the cosmos, and especially human life.  It was a distinct contrast to the warped theology and ethics of Israel’s pagan neighbors.  Here’s how Lewis caps it:

In so far as this idea of the Law’s beauty, sweetness, or preciousness, arose from the contrast of the surrounding Paganisms, we may soon find occasion to recover it.  Christians increasingly live on a spiritual island; new and rival ways of life surround it in all directions and their tides come further up the beach every time.  None of those new ways is yet so filthy or cruel as some Semitic Paganism.  But many of them ignore all individual rights and are already cruel enough.  Some give morality a wholly new meaning which we cannot accept, some deny its possibility.  Perhaps we shall all learn, sharply enough, to value the clean air and “sweet reasonableness” of the Christian ethics which in a more Christian age we might have taken for granted.  (From Reflections of the Psalms)    

I wonder what Jack would say today?

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