Studies in the Laws of Nature’s God
by Gerald R. Thompson
SELF-STUDY – WHAT IS LAW?
The purpose of this study is to investigate whether laws, particularly lonang, have certain characteristics or attributes in common. This will help to answer the question, What is law? Indeed, a conclusion reached by some modern legal scholars is that law, in a truly objective sense, does not really exist. Others hold that law is whatever is commanded by a sovereign. But suppose that not everything said by God (the Supreme Sovereign of the world) is law. Would it make sense to hold that everything said by public officials (mere men) is law? Thus, we will want to discover whether sovereigns, particularly God, ever command things that are not law.
There are many definitions of law which merit study. But for present purposes, let us choose a definition which at least purports to be consistent with lonang, and use it as a starting point for discussion. This is the definition of law offered by Blackstone, whose view greatly influenced America’s legal foundations: Law, in its most general and comprehensive sense, signifies a rule of action … which is prescribed by some superior, and which the inferior is bound to obey.
If law is something prescribed by a superior, then it must be initiated by that superior. Thus, law is impliedly created, not the product of evolution. It would be inconsistent to say that anything was “prescribed,” the existence of which evolved by the operation of impersonal energy and random chance over time. Blackstone, as did legal scholars before him, also believed that human laws, following this pattern, were created by people, not merely having evolved into existence. This belief gave rise to the ancient doctrine that all human laws must be promulgated (i.e., prescribed) before they could be enforced. This idea undergirds the doctrine of vagueness in modern constitutional jurisprudence.
1. In creating the universe, did God prescribe the rules by which everything would be governed? What is the testimony from nature – is there order (rules) or chaos (no rules)?
The Lord has established His throne in the heavens; And His sovereignty rules over all. Ps. 103:19.
2. What evidence is there for the idea that when God created the universe, He also created the laws which govern human conduct and the various authorities which govern mankind?
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said, . . . “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding . . . Do you know the ordinances of the heavens, or fix their rule over the earth?” Job 38:1,4,33.
For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities– all things have been created by Him and for Him. Col. 1:16.
3. Is civil lawmaking a result of creation by known persons at a certain time, or the culmination of impersonal forces acting since the indefinite past? Can one promulgate a civil law which has never been created, or announce the enforcement of a law which has gradually evolved into being? To what extent is the formal recognition of an “evolving” law by public officials itself a creative act?
If law is prescribed by a superior, then it must also be objectively real. When a superior prescribes a law, the existence of that law is not hypothetical, nor merely subjective in the mind of the inferior. Thus, it would be helpful to determine the extent to which laws, particularly lonang, exist as objective reality, if at all. Our conclusions on this matter have important consequences. If law is truly objective, it will obligate people whether they choose to recognize it or not. Thus, people who disobey natural or divine laws of behavior cannot actually change those laws, nor, arguably, can they avoid their inevitable enforcement.
1. Is nature objectively real? Are laws plainly revealed in nature? Are natural laws objectively real?
The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. . . . Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their utterances to the end of the world. . .. The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. Ps 19:1,4,7.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. Rom. 1:18-20.
2. In what sense, if any, were the laws of ancient Israel objectively real? To what extent can civil laws be viewed as having an objective quality, not being merely subjective in our minds? Is writing a law on stone or paper what makes it objectively real?
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘You yourselves have seen that I have spoken to you from heaven.’ . . . Now these are the ordinances which you are to set before them.” Exo. 20:22; 21:1.
Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets which were written on both sides; they were written on one side and the other. And the tablets were God’s work, and the writing was God’s writing engraved on the tablets. Exo. 32:15-16.
3. How does God continue to reveal natural and/or divine law to people today, if at all? To what extent is it objectively real?
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. Heb. 1:1-2.
“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel After those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds, And I will write them upon their hearts. And I will be their God, And they shall be My people. And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen, And everyone his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ For all shall know Me, From the least to the greatest of them.” Heb. 8:10-11.
If law is prescribed by a superior, it would also seem to be mandatory upon the inferior. Otherwise, the so-called inferior is not actually inferior. Thus, a prescribed law is one which is imposed. For example, does either the natural or divine law require human adoption or consent for it to be obligatory or binding? The same question can be posed regarding the enforcement of such laws. We do have the ability to choose to disobey the law. But, do we have a choice whether to suffer the consequences of that disobedience? Not everyone suffers the same consequences for violating the law, of course. Yet presumably, the imposition of any punishment is left to the discretion of the enforcer.
Blackstone, Locke and others believed the law of nature to be mandatorily binding on all people, including all lawmakers and other public officials. Thus, in their view, all of our civil laws, to be valid, must conform to God’s laws. Historically, the duty to obey any civil law was viewed similarly, that is, the enactment and enforcement of civil laws does not require the consent of every individual. Once a civil government is lawfully established, it has the power to impose laws.
1. What gives God the right to rule over the creation?
On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use, and another for common use? Rom. 9:20-21.
- Does God’s right to rule originate in the fact that He is all powerful? Because He is good? Or, something else?
- To what extent does the law of nature oblige every person, and why? Are there exceptions?
2. If a person refuses to obey God, to what extent can they avoid the operation and enforcement of the “law of sin and death,” namely, if you sin, you will die [Cf. Rom. 8:2]? Can anyone declare themselves to be a “neutral party” in the operation of natural or divine law?
3. To what extent, if any, is every individual person bound to obey the laws enacted by public officials (including lawful representatives) even though they neither ask for those legal obligations nor individually consent to their imposition? Does “government by consent” mean that every person must agree with every law before they are bound by it?
Recall again our definition of law as “a rule of action.” Historically, this meant that law, including any civil law, must be permanent, uniform and universal. A permanent law is one which neither changes in what is commanded or prohibited over time, nor operates at some times but not at others. A uniform law is one which applies to all people the same, and is not relative as to circumstance. A universal law is one which is not relative as to place.
Here, analogies between God’s law and nature abound. For example, God is an eternal being, without beginning or end, whose nature does not change. The question then, is whether we could expect God’s law to be anything other than permanent. Similarly, God does not show anyone favoritism or partiality. Hence, might we expect that God’s laws would apply to everyone uniformly? Or again, if God is the Creator of the entire universe, might we expect His laws to govern things the same everywhere?
1. Let’s consider the permanence of God’s law.
- To what extent is the Word of God unchangeable?
“God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? Num. 23:19.
- To what extent is God’s law unchangeable?
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words shall not pass away.” Mat 24:35. “But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the Law to fail.” Luk. 16:17.
- What is the relationship between God’s Word and God’s Law? Are they equivalent? Is one a subset of the other?
2. Next examine the uniformity of God’s law.
- Reread Rom. 1:18-20. Can anyone escape being a creature of God? Can anyone escape the laws of his or her creation?
Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God . . . for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God . . .. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also . . .. Rom. 3:19,23,29.
- To what extent did God’s law apply in the case of Egypt and the nations of Canaan? Had these nations received the covenant law of Israel or any other verbal revelation of God’s law?
“You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived, nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes. . .. Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled. For the land has become defiled, therefore I have visited its punishment upon it, so the land has spewed out its inhabitants. But as for you, you are to keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not do any of these abominations, neither the native, nor the alien who sojourns among you (for the men of the land who have been before you have done all these abominations, and the land has become defiled); so that the land may not spew you out, should you defile it, as it has spewed out the nation which has been before you.” Lev. 18:3,24-28.
- To what extent may the offenses listed in Lev. 18:6-23 be considered, as they were historically, “offenses against nature”?
- To what extent did God’s covenant law apply to persons within ancient Israel’s jurisdiction? Did this covenant law apply to persons outside of Israel’s jurisdiction? Was the covenant law uniform?
“There is to be one law and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you.” Num. 15:16.
3. Now look at the universality of God’s law.
- Reread Ps. 19:1,4. What are the limits, if any, to God’s territorial jurisdiction?
Where can I go from Thy Spirit? Or where can I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, Thou art there. If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Thy hand will lead me, And Thy right hand will lay hold of me. Ps. 139:7-10.
- Is there any nation – or any place – where God’s law does not govern?
… He made from one, every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times, and the boundaries of their habitation . . .. Acts 17:26. “This is the plan devised against the whole earth; and this is the hand that is stretched out against all the nations. For the Lord of hosts has planned, and who can frustrate it? And as for His stretched-out hand, who can turn it back?” Isa. 14:26-27.
- If we colonized a planet in another solar system, would God’s law apply there the same as it does here? Why?
Although God’s law is an aspect of His revealed word, not all expressions of God’s will, even those in verbal form, are permanent, uniform and universal rules. For example, God has often directed individuals to perform a specific task, which directions were not applicable to everyone. See, Josh. 6:2-4 and Acts 10:19-20. Such directions were in the nature of a personal order, rather than a general law. Similarly, God has often pronounced judgment on people as a result of some particular act. See, 1 Ki. 21:17,19 and Lu. 10:13-15. Although these acts violated general laws, the judgments themselves seem to be limited to the persons named. Historically, legal commentators concluded that not everything God said is “law,” hence, not everything public officials declare is to be regarded as “law,” either.
Specifically, it was understood that executive orders and judicial opinions, while obviously involved in implementing law, were not themselves a source of law, nor were they a rule of general action. In fact, the common law understanding was that the role of the judge is to declare what law already exists. The standard legal maxim is, Jus dicere, et non jus dare. That is, the province of a judge is to declare the law, not to make it, with “declare” and “make” having different meanings.
1. When Moses judged the people of Israel, did he resolve disputes by exercising his personal will, or by declaring law which pre-existed the dispute? In other words, did Moses “make” laws for Israel, or did he declare the laws he had “found”?
“When they have a dispute, it comes to me, and I judge between a man and his neighbor, and make known the statutes of God and His laws.” Exo. 18:16.
2. When Samuel, who was Israel’s judge, held King Saul accountable to the “law,” with whom did the law originate? Samuel, or someone else?
But Samuel said, “What have you done?” And Saul said, “Because I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the appointed days, and that the Philistines were assembling at Michmash, therefore I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not asked the favor of the Lord.’ So I forced myself and offered the burnt offering.” And Samuel said to Saul, “You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you, for now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not endure. The Lord has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has appointed him as ruler over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” I Sam. 13:11-14.
3. When Nathan judged David, did he announce his own rule of law or apply a pre-existing one? In either case, what was the applicable rule of law?
“Why have you despised the word of the Lord by doing evil in His sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the sons of Ammon. Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.” 2 Sam. 12:9-10.
4. To what extent did Jesus exercise moral or spiritual judgment according to the pattern of Moses for civil judgment? With respect to making law versus finding it, is there one manner of judging moral questions and another way to judge civil disputes, or are they the same?
“I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” John 5:30.
* Copyright © 1995, 2006 Gerald R. Thompson. Used by permission.