Which Is Worse: The Absence of Law, or Absolute Law?

Laws are funny things, aren’t they?

There are laws that many of us are happy to abide by: Like not speeding in a school zone or not littering because we want the places we live to be tidy and beautiful.

There are laws that we dont like following and often break knowingly: Like speed limits that we find as mere suggestions and checking our social media while driving. 

There are newer laws that many break without realizing it: Like sharing your Netflix password, which is a crime as of 2016. Most of you would never do this because, let’s be honest, you dont even know your Netflix password. Its just an auto-fill-in!

Some laws aren’t really enforced, like jaywalking, which many of us have done in the sight of law enforcement, but we haven’t been arrested or given a ticket.

There are laws that were allowed to break in dire situations: Such as speeding away from someone who is trying to harm you; or causing public property damage if you need to break a window to get out of a burning building.

There are times when we are caught breaking a law, where a punishment, fine, or trial may be enforced, and we are let off. The human element means that there is still discretion and judgment calls.

Some laws are passed or overturned, such as the recent Federal ruling on Roe v. Wade, where people both celebrated and lamented.

Our relationship with laws is a complicated one. And all of the ones I mentioned are created, enforced or not enforced, voted on, and scrutinized by people. These might be considered Human Law, some of which have no moral imperatives, like coming to a stop at a stop light or driving on the right side of the road.

These dont even mention Divine Laws, where God has directly revealed to us how we should live and act directly through scripture; or Natural Laws, where human beings can intrinsically or internally know certain values based on their own reason and moral conscience.

If our relationship to human laws is a complicated matter, how much more is our relationship to God’s divine laws?

What I want to briefly touch on in this article is actually not just laws, “The Law” or the legality and morality of laws, but rather a particular word - authority. Let me ask it this way: When it comes to an authority in your life, whats worse: the absence of law or absolute law?

There are a bunch of ways to think about authority in your life, but let me give you two extremes, and one centered on God. The first is:

1. Anarchy: The absence of all authority.

This is where there are no laws or no enforcement of any law. This is everyone becoming a law unto themselves. This is where individuals act based on what they think is right, and since we cant even agree and play nice with the laws that we have, we definitely wouldnt agree and play nice when there are none at all.

Most, if not all of us, would not welcome or desire this. While we might be convinced that some authorities arent helpful, may be corrupt, or could use some major improvement, we would not give those authorities up for no authority.

What we realize here is that the presence of some authority is better than no authority.

The opposite of Anarchy is:

2. Tyranny: The presence of oppressive authority.

This is where an authority has absolute power without any checks and balances or way to peacefully change or improve. This kind of authority is not motivated to improve or be for others because its basic instinct is to remain in power. That’s the only job of a tyrannical figure or form of authority. Tyranny usually has to be overthrown, as it does not willingly give up its authority, influence, and power.

What we realize with this extreme is that while we know we need some authority, we also need some freedoms and the ability to push back on authority. Having less authority is better than having someone else have total authority.

If these two dont sound good, its because theyre not. And obviously, there are forms of authority that do not fall under just these two. These are just the extreme. But I want to mention the third extreme, in fact, the only good one on this list, I think.

3. Divine Sovereignty: Gods completely good, holy authority over all things.

This is extreme because it is the type of authority that can seem unchallenged. And in a way, it is. It is where Gods ultimate, powerful authority is over everything and in every way. This is actually the state of all of existence, even if we do not recognize or adhere to it. Everyone has a response to this type of authority. There are three major ways in fact:

  1. To disbelieve that God and His authority exists.
  2. To acknowledge Gods authority but refuse it.
  3. To accept Gods authority and live within to the best of our ability.

There are consequences to all of them. Even the last one. Because as I said before, our relationship with human laws is complicated, and our relationship with Gods laws can be even more complicated.

Let me give you a few examples from Jesus interaction with others as they attempted to live within God’s authority:

Open Bible with gavel laying on top, spirit of the law vs letter of the law

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/artisteer 

Our Relationship with Human Laws and God’s Laws

The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed…So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, Why dont your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands? He replied, Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.' You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” Mark 7:1-8 

Jesus would often scold the Pharisees and teachers of the Law when it came to not only their knowledge of “The Law” but their practice and enforcement of it. At some points, they would make God’s commands out to be like a tyrannical leader: always watching to catch people in an act of disobedience or a misstep. And they were the arbiters of that law, righteously (or so they thought), pointing out people’s breaking of God’s holy commands.

Non-Christians and Christians alike today can often feel this way if we don’t teach God’s commands with wisdom and the right perspective, we can make God out to be a tyrannical leader that is only concerned that we do not do certain things that He has deemed to be bad.

Additionally, Jesus pointed out that some of the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law would appeal to an authority (the tradition of the elders) that no semblance to the commands of God. They were simply, as Jesus put it, “human traditions.” They were pointing people away from the authority of God, and towards the authority of mere people.

2 Things We Can Get Mixed Up

Here’s where I think the Pharisees, teachers of the Law, and even we can get mixed up as we look at the scripture above:

1. When anyone focuses only on the law, they can easily forget about the lawgiver.

Laws don’t just materialize out of thin air (thankfully!). They’re given by a good God, who is connecting us to His character. God isn’t a no-fun parent that simply says no all the time or a judge who is quick to sentence at the slightest breaking of one of His commands. He’s compassionate, patient, loving, caring, and full of grace — all things that the law can’t be. Laws can be followed or not, but that’s about it.

2. Rejecting Gods commands is the beginning of us becoming our own authority.

If we understand what God’s laws are and reject them, we’re basically adopting anarchy because if there is no outside, above all authority, then we each become our own or have an opinion on what authority should look like. In a sense, no one is truly in charge for the long term, and no values are set because as leaders and laws change, so does the authority. The only way to truly make sure anarchy (or at the very least, the confusion of changing values and standards) doesn’t win, is to recognize God’s authority.

The True Law

I want to leave you with one last way of thinking about authority and “the law” because this can truly be a confusing topic. You may not know all the laws, which you have to follow and which you don’t, or where they even are. That’s ok. Luckily for us, Jesus simplified it all. Here was how He understood and taught others about the law:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Matthew 5:17-20 

Jesus said that the Law was fulfilled in Him, and also that there would be commands He expected people to follow. The people who were listening to Jesus most likely knew God’s commands; however, what Jesus said next about them would be new. First, He would say something like:

You have heard that it was said…”

Then He would recount a law or part of a law the people knew well. But then He followed it up with

But I tell you��”

Like the rabbis of His day, Jesus would comment on God’s commands. But unlike the rabbis of His day, He connected the fulfillment of scripture to Himself. He was essentially saying: “I am the authority. Scripture points to me, is about me, is fulfilled me, and I will tell you the deeper nature of God’s commands. Let’s understand it this way:

The true law is Christ.

Final Thoughts

You may not know what “The Law” is, or can’t name the commands of God. You may not know where they are in the Bible. You may disagree with some, all, or only one of them. You may be attempting to follow all of them. Wherever you’re at, what I hope is that you’ll look to the authority of Christ in all things. To realize that you are free to follow Him, because the law has been fulfilled in Christ. I hope you’ll acknowledge, accept, and act on the authority of Christ Himself.

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Injury Law Firm

Kile Baker is a former Atheist who didn’t plan on becoming a Christian, let alone a Pastor, who now writes to try and make Christianity simple. Kile recently wrote a study guide to help people “look forward to and long for Heaven.” You can get one on Amazon here. He also writes at www.paperbacktheologian.com. Kile is the grateful husband to the incredibly talented Rachel, Dad to the energetic London and feisty Emma and Co-Lead Pastor at LifePoint Church in Northern Nevada. He single handedly keeps local coffee shops in business.

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