Recapitulation: Summary of God’s Laws
From time to time, the conversation seems to lose track of fundamentals. People make all sorts of mistaken assumptions and we end up talking pasts each other. Let me restate a quick summary of what I mean by God’s Laws and His view of justice.
The Ten Commandments are an expression, set in a cultural matrix. They are not universal, but a historical manifestation of something universal. Jesus’ Two Commandments are very nearly universal in expression.
And one of them, an expert in religious law, asked him a question to test him: “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus said to him, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:35-40 NET)
Oddly, He quotes snippets from the Covenant of Moses, to show the universal principles were always there. In Matthew’s narrative, Jesus goes on to explain in the context of His day, and for the needs of His audience, how most people didn’t understand the meaning of “neighbor.” He does this by standing the whole thing on its head, reversing the roles most people would have expected, showing how a presumed enemy could easily be a neighbor by making the right choice. His religion, race and politics aren’t the issue, but how he extends God’s mercy into your life. You never know when you’ll encounter that, so you have to create in your soul a neutral space for every first encounter, and offer to be neighborly.
The fundamental issue is, here on this fallen earth, people are the most important resource. You do what you can to avoid externalizing the costs of your life onto others, but you expect a certain amount of common welfare seeking. Life after the Fall stinks, and things will never be really nice for everyone. You are required by God to avoid making it any worse, when possible. Instead, you are prepared to exert some effort helping ameliorate the sorrows. You do so with the calculus on what you have and can do, not some balancing act for which you cannot possibly see all factors.
But the starting point is acknowledging God first. Any criticism of human behavior starts there. Not only the behavior of others, but our own first. Jesus and His Apostles warned this is a variable, in the sense not everyone will do it. We who know Him cannot avoid it, but we realize the tension between holding the world accountable to His Lordship, even as we recognize in any given context we will have to proceed under the assumption they don’t accept that accountability. We hold that in tension and focus considerable energy on the second issue of common welfare. We do so because we take the first issue so seriously. We hold up that shining light, but realize few will reach for it, as they must do so voluntarily.
We still have to deal with a majority of humanity in an unredeemed context. The expansion of that common welfare should demand of us giving people a break now and then, regardless of what we may think they deserve, and whether they will even bother being grateful. That Sabbath Law was more about giving living things a rest and trusting God for the difference it might make in lost productivity. One day in seven is given as an absolute in that sense.
Honoring your parents is shorthand for a command to live in tribal harmony. This foreshadows my assertion no other form of government is just in God’s eyes. You might perceive injustice possible from a tribal patriarchy, but God says that’s better than any alternative we can dream up. The greatest social stability possible is in the ancient Hebrew feudalism. No one should have much say in your daily affairs who isn’t related by blood or covenant. This the shepherd government.
This government will keep order, and the bears the burden for deciding when something is a capital offense, a threat to the social order. But it’s not possible to define a system where it always works perfectly, so God offers the principle murder is wrong, while killing in itself is not. Moses went on to discuss in detail how this works out, but the underlying principle is still clearly stated in Noah’s Covenant. Again, you can’t externalize the sorrows of your life onto others. You don’t interfere with the family relations of others, and you don’t take what you want simply because you gotta have it. Sex is one of the harshest absolutes God expressed, and sexual fulfillment is not at all a human right. If you can’t be satisfied with what God delivers into your hands, you are wrong already. You won’t have proper standing to take faith and struggle for something better. Nor do you steal the truth, but adopt an open honesty about everything. Who wants to live where you can’t rely on anything people say? Yes, we have cultures where hyperbole is built into the language, but an attempt to deceive is wrong.
Expansions are endless, as endless as the variations of life itself. For example, the business of sabbaticals and credit Jubilees are more than a mere cultural expression, but fundamental to the earth and life itself. People need to stop periodically and reevaluate, give God time to speak about changes necessary as we age and things around us drift along. We can’t possibly all agree on the details, so we are bound by divine necessity to keep open negotiations with everyone. It’s about people, not rules. As commonly used, “rule by law” is an abomination to God. Somewhere in the details of every context, you have to expect a net loss of things you can measure and a net gain from the moral principles of the universe in terms of things you cannot measure. That is, be patient and let God do His work, and you’ll be better off in the end in the here and now. He promised what you lose will not be unbearable, and what you gain will be as good as it gets.
In the end, it all points to something much higher, ineffable, and infinitely more important. Honoring that Ultimate Reality by how you live here promises miracles now and later. If you lose that, you have nothing at all.