The Law of God and Public Policy, Part 5
By: T. M. Moore|Published: July 19, 2012 8:55 AM
The Law beyond the Letter
First Things (5)
Christians must live beyond the letter to the spirit of the Law.
“When men quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist and the man does not die but takes to his bed, then if the man rises again and walks outdoors with his staff, he who struck him shall be clear, only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall have him thoroughly healed.” Exodus 21:18, 19
Maintaining the balance of justice
The Law of God describes a system of justice which was designed to maintain the balance of neighbor-love within the communities of ancient Israel. The words of the civil codes of God’s Law are not meant to be exhaustive; they are, rather, designed to illustrate applications of the Ten Commandments in various situations, so that local judges and authorities could reason on the basis of the words of the Law concerning what the spirit of the Law required in any particular situation.
In the American legal system, those who are found to have caused injury to others can expect that they or their insurance company will be liable for compensatory payments. This is as it should be in order to restore the balance of, if not neighbor-love, at least justice, and to discourage the use of violence against one’s neighbor.
Such an approach to justice did not originate with American or English law.
In the incident described in the text above, justice would be achieved when the wounded party was restored to health, including payment of opportunity costs to cover his expenses and lost income while recuperating. The Law of God thus encouraged the people of Israel to check their anger and to eschew violence toward their neighbors. When they failed in this, justice required retribution.
The spirit beyond the words
Christians want to see the benefits of justice and neighbor-love, as these are revealed in the Law of God, for their own communities and nation. We must, therefore, work hard to understand the concept of justice as this is revealed in God’s Law and the rest of His Word. But we must not suppose that we are to be bound merely by the letter or words of the Law. In this age when God has poured out His Spirit – Who is the Giver of God’s Law (Lk. 11:20; Matt. 12:28; Ex. 31:18; Deut. 9:10) and both its Teacher (Ezek. 36:26, 27) and its Power (Ezek. 36:26, 27; Phil. 2:13) – believers must look to the Spirit of God to help them discern the spirit of His Law. Thus they will be better prepared to work for bringing neighbor-love and justice to their communities and their nation.
As believers grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, and learn to walk in the Spirit rather than in the flesh (2 Pet. 3:18; Gal. 5:16-23), they will discover applications of the Law of God that exceed the letter of the Law and bring renewing and liberating power for reconciliation and justice into the their daily practice of the faith.
The story of the good Samaritan illustrates this well (Lk. 10:25-37). Here Jesus provides a lesson in how to restore justice and neighbor-love by following the spirit and not just the letter of the Law of God.
The good Samaritan
A man had been beaten. He was wounded and unable to care for himself. Justice demanded that he be restored to health and that those responsible be made to cover his expenses, as well as restore what they had stolen from him.
But it was not likely that those who had perpetrated violence against this man would ever be discovered. Would justice languish and neighbor-love fail?
Hardly. Jesus showed how a Samaritan – the least likely of people to care for a wounded Jew – took it upon himself, without need of law or other compulsion, to restore justice on behalf of the wounded man. He did not owe the man anything. The priest and Levite who crossed the road and refused to help the wounded man doubtless considered that this was not their problem; they did not commit the crime, so they owed the man nothing in the way of help. They could persuade themselves, perhaps, that they were only following the letter of the Law.
But the Samaritan understood the larger demands of justice and was willing to sacrifice his own convenience and material bounty so that the higher and greater demand of justice and neighbor-love might be fulfilled.
In so doing the Samaritan did not require some legal code or judicial mandate. Nor did he condone any patently sinful practices. He did what was in his power to do, given the circumstances before him. Jesus commands His followers to practice obedience to His Law in just this same way (v. 37).
Christians and public policy
The Law demands justice, but it guides us in the practice of mercy, generosity, compassion, and selflessness. We are practicing the spirit of the Law when its words lead us to show such neighbor-love to the people around us.
Christians take up the Law of God as a holy and righteous and good standard for following Jesus in bringing justice and neighbor-love to their communities (Rom. 7:12; 1 Jn. 2:1-6). They do not require acts of Congress or local commissions to move them to follow the Spirit of God as He teaches and empowers them to live out the spirit of God’s Law.
At the same time, they recognize that just public policy requires strictures and sanctions; not all people in our community have the Spirit of Christ. If the goodness of God’s Law is to extend to all the members of our community, that servant for good which God has appointed (Rom. 13:1-5) will need to draw on God’s Law to help in determining which policies are most likely to maintain the balance of justice and neighbor-love in the community.
The duty of the Christian community is to show the way to justice and neighbor-love and to work for public policies that best mirror the words and spirit of the Law of God.
Next steps: Can this be true? Do your church leaders agree with this idea that the Law of God might actually be a source to turn to for making public policy? Why not ask a few of them? Share this article with them, and see how they respond. Begin praying that God might use you to help your church gain a better understanding of the Law of God and public policy.
For more insight to this topic, order Chuck Colson’s book, God & Government, from our online store. You might also read the article, “It Ain’t Heavy: Delighting in the Law of God,” by T. M. Moore.
Copyright 2012 Doing the Right Thing