Friday, November 28, 2008

The Law's Intent

Ken Schenck has been writing on Romans lately. His last entry was on a "theology of Romans". If theology is understood in leadership terms, how does "that" look, according to Romans?

The Jews were to represent God to other nations. They exemplified what God was like, which illustrated his character. At least, this is the bilblical understanding. The Jews understood the "law" as that which perfected man, because the "law" represented "God". But, along comes Paul, who, as a Jew persecuted Christians stoning them because they did not "do" the requirements of the "law" (according to his understanding). Christians were following in Christ's footsteps in meeting the needs of others, and theologizing about Christ. Even though Paul was a Jew and educated as a leader (Greek) under Gamiel, he did not "do the works of the "law"", according to Paul's own self-judgment.

There are two ideas that run together concerning the understanding of the Law. One is a personal dimension of grace and mercy to others, which was understood and exemplified by Christ in his earthly life. The other side of the 'law is justice" where all were equally 'sold under sin" as Paul would term it. What does this mean?

Life is understood by the Christian as sacred because it is a gift, so all men are equal under the 'law's protection of justice". Social justice is what the law demands and human rights are to be protected and sought by all religions. This is the ethical demension to the law, which is not about morality, as defined by a text, culture, or moral model, so much as it is about treating others with respect and dignity.

Morality is about specific human behavior. One can be moral, but ethically perverse. That is, one can meet the legal demensions of the law requirements, without really giving equality under and by the law. Many times taking advantage of another is done by those who know better about the law's "ins and outs". The law can give a check to our human nature, in helping us to understand and question ourselves and motivations and at the same time protect the rights of those who aren't 'in the know". Whenever there is a flagrant disregard of the law, because of arrogance, self-satisfaction, self-indulgence, or selfishness there is also a payment that must be made by someone.

Just today it was reported that a Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death because shoppers trampled him underfoot in the name of a bargain. People were seeking after their own interests at the expense of this Wal-Mart employee. Did they intend to trample him? I'm sure not . All they had in mind was their own agenda, to get that bargain before another got it. Paul would say that these shoppers who had the "law" in its allowing freedom to shop, were not "doing the law" because they were focused on something other than self reflective moderation of life. The Gentiles did not have the law, and yet were obeying its requirements. In an honor/shame culture, this would either humble or infuriate the Jewish believer by accentuating their heart.

I think Paul was using the legal language of the Jew, who boasted in its "civility" to cause a humbling attitude toward those who did not have that civilizing law. It does behoove the American to understand what this might mean to us as a culture of indulgence. I do not believe nor think that sacrifice is the "gospel", but I do think that a self-reflective look at what America is about is needed. We are a great nation. But, do we boast in our greatness, and disregard another? Is our attempt at diplomacy only in "word" and not in deed? In seeking freedom for individuals, which is the 'ideal" how much do we question our pursuit of "ends" that justify means that are only self-interested goals for advancement? We became great becasue we believed in a government for and by the people, with representatives that showed a concern for the common good.

Paul's Romans is a good dose of medicine for us all, but especially in light of America's goal-oriented, market-driven, money-making, business-protective environment.

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