April 18, 2009

The Wait for the Higher Law

In reply to my last blog regarding Christ and the Ten Commandments, Joe Huster said the following:
The law served its purpose, and this was not to provide moral guidance. The law showed us that we couldn't live up to even the most minimal moral standards. It, thus, convicted us as subjects in need of redemption.

Those who see the Ten Commandments as the complete expression of God's moral concern miss the boat entirely. Sam Harris pointed out that he, a devout atheist, could think of obvious improvements to the set of rules. "Do not allow children to be abused or exploited" is a perfect example of a rule that would have to be included in any comprehensive list of God's commandments.

That such a rule is lacking in the Ten Commandments is not an indictment of God’s failure to provide moral guidance. It is an indication that the Ten Commandments are simply lowball standards that reveal our fallen natures. The Sermon on the Mount makes that clear.
I like what he has to say, but the notion begs the very question I used to end the blog: Why didn’t God communicate the requirements of the gospel to Moses? Why, in other words, did He wait until Christ’s ministry to disclose the higher law?

I’ve touched upon a possible answer in an earlier blog, but let me reiterate it here. Recall the history of the Jews before the time Moses received the Ten Commandments. Prior to being led through the wilderness as vagabonds, they were slaves to the Egyptians and considered chattel. They lived what I can only assume to be a brutal hand-to-mouth existence. Their only laws were based upon the vicious and capricious whips of bondage. Under such circumstances, few (if any) rise above the law of the jungle—a law that rewards the fittest rather than the moral.

It might be said then that, for the children of Israel, their long trek through the wilderness was God’s way of exacting a new discipline that required His people to live in cooperation and faith. What’s more, it prepared them for what came next, because near the end of that long sojourn—prior to leading His people into the Promised Land—God granted the Ten Commandments to Moses. Yet, as Joe says above, it was not a complete rendering of God’s morality. The people weren’t ready for that. They had only recently learned to consider the needs of the greater community.

Here, an interesting point can be made: If God waited before bestowing the Mosaic Law and waited again before offering Christ’s gospel, what does that say about the standards by which we measure ourselves? To me, it suggests that as we rise to new standards, the standards are likely to rise again. Unfortunately, if Christ were here today, He would have to re-teach His entire gospel, since it never really supplanted the law it was meant to fulfill and remains a revolutionary ideal today. Do we insist upon forgiveness in all circumstances? No, our culture loves vengeance, as is evident in every cop show and legal thriller on television. Do we insist upon bridling all lust and anger? Not at all, rather unmitigated appetite and ambition are considered marks of a charmed life. Do we insist upon honesty? Every business I know possesses file cabinets full of legal opinions that serve as evidence against the notion and yet are considered smart thinking.

Assuming, however, that we could live Christ’s gospel more fully, I’m sure we would discover even higher laws. We might, for example, learn that God wants us to take better care of the earth and live with the kind of restraint that conserves it. Of course, it’s just a suggestion today.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If what you say is true, Jesus taught a gospel that is incomplete and so imperfect. That's not the Jesus I worship.