Thinking About Law from God’s Point of View
by Kerry L. Morgan © 1988
WHAT KEEPS US FROM THINKING ABOUT LAW FROM GOD’S POINT OF VIEW?
How do we begin to think about law from God’s point of view? Perhaps the easier question is: What is the first legal idea upon which our thinking is to be grounded? This, I think, is the challenge–where to start. Might I simply suggest that the place to start thinking about law, is with the idea that God, in fact, actually has a point of view on law; that we are duty-bound to find out what it is; and we are likewise obligated to ascertain to what extent He intends it to be relevant to the United States at the close of the 20th Century. Is this not the challenge?
Notice I say that the challenge is to think about the law from God’s point of view. This means we are to think about the law from its most objective vantage point. We are to think of law in its most broad dimension, because God has the most objective and broad vantage point there can possibly be.
By the same token , I am not saying we are to limit thinking about law, to only thinking about the law of religious liberty, or church law or a topical approach. As a matter of fact, these particulars are not the first matters to be considered. We can not wade into them without first understanding law itself from God’s point of view. So this little essay is not about something as narrow as that sliver of law dubbed religious liberty. It looks to more cardinal and rudimentary questions of first importance.
A. Our Legal Education and Method
Now if this is the challenge, how well can Christian lawyers or any lawyer for that matter, fare with respect to it? What is holding us back? Is it secularism? Is it money? Is it time? I submit that it is really none of this these. Christian lawyers are, like 20th century lawyers in general, just badly equipped to tackle this challenge. By professional legal training we lack the necessary intellectual power to think in terms of a worldview of law. Our training has told us to think in terms of the law of the case, not the law of the land or the law of nature. By training our minds naturally hone in on the law of the case–the law which applies to these particular facts under these particular circumstances in this particular jurisdiction.
Consequently, our initial reflexive prompting is not to ask “What is the law of God or of his creation?” as it may apply to any particular set of facts. Our legal bible is the case law and its method, not the Holy Writ or God’s creation in nature. In many ways our legal method is idolatrous, but we prefer not to look at it this way, as long as we can win some cases (especially religious liberty cases) along the way.
B. Our Spiritual Climate and Influences
Not only are Christian lawyers as lawyers badly equipped to think about law from God’s point of view, but we as Christians, like 20th century Christians in general, are also badly equipped to undertake such a challenge. By spiritual training we lack the necessary faith that God has given us a knowable legal standard upon which we can flesh out a legal worldview. What obstructs our ability to build a legal worldview grounded in the idea that God is there and he is not silent on the subject of law? Is it not what we have mistakenly exchanged for spiritual growth? Rather than spiritual growth, we have immersed ourselves week after week in sermons and public worship which have reduced the reality of a God who created the Universe, to a “how to” campaign of world evangelism and church growth. We have listened to the clerics and theologians who say that God is “pro-family” or a function of their particular “religious tradition.” What are the great hallmarks of our Modern Christian Faith but these–being pro-family, evangelism, and defending our religious traditions?
C. Our Fear of Being Tagged as “theocratic”
But note that in all of this, apart from these three (I may have missed one or two) that law and lawyering are not relevant. Christian lawyers have no real contribution to development of a law for the nations from God’s point of view. Can you remember the last sermon you heard on thinking about law? Or that gave serious thought to the idea that God, in fact, actually has a point of view on law. I’ve heard dozens of confused sermons on why we are under “grace” and not “law,” and a few on how Charlton Heston received the law on Mt. Sinai, but not one on law itself. Is it any wonder that by virtue of our spiritual training, we are dead men walking?
Or when was it that any Christian organization or Christian legal organization placed any sustained spiritual emphasis on our obligation to find out what legal principles or rules God may actually intend to be relevant to the United States at the close of the 20th Century? All it takes is one superficial remark about “Reconstructionism” or “Theocracy” to derail and justify our faithless discharge of this spiritual obligation. We are told that Israel’s law is too strict or lacks application to modern legal understanding. None of this whining, however, runs to the heart of the present challenge. These complains are cursive dismissals, not reasoned refutations.
So I think we need to recognize that their are significant barriers and impediments to thinking about the idea that God, in fact, actually has a point of view on law; that we are duty-bound to find out what it is; and likewise obligated to ascertain to what extent He intends it to be relevant to the United States at the close of the 20th Century. Our legal training is comfortable with the idolatry of the case law method and uncomfortable with God’s reflection of law in Nature and the Bible. Our spiritual comfort zone has been conditioned to prefer our distinctive religious traditions and its theology in lieu of God’s reflection of law in Nature and the Bible (both of which He authored).
WE HAVE A KNOWABLE BASIS FOR THINKING ABOUT LAW FROM GOD’S POINT OF VIEW
How do we break free from our specialized professional idolatry and our limited religious traditions? Might I suggest we turn to that great book of legal instruction and education? You know the one. Surely your pastor has preached from this book on dozens of occasions. Your theological education has affirmed the centrality of this book to the law and the education of people and lawyers in the law. Christian publishing houses have flooded the market with “how to” books in this area. Christian law students are inundated with this stuff. Right? Well not exactly. I refer to Exodus 18. It is not a familiar passage or theme. It is not “evangelistic”, “pro-family” or part of our “religious traditions.” Its just there, in the Bible taking up space before all the good stuff in the gospels, or so we have been taught.
A. A Basis in the law of Nature
Before any law of the land was given to Israel, the nation had been functioning as a nation under the laws of nature, not the law of the land. We know that for at least three months, Moses and his appointed Judges judged the people pursuant to some law, for the scripture refers to Moses saying that he makes know to the people “the statutes of God and his laws.” (Exodus 18:16, 20-23). Now my question to you is, how did Moses know “the statutes of God and his laws” (v. 16) in the first place, and how did he “teach” this body of law to the Judges which he latter appointed (v. 20)? This was before the ten commandments were given.
B. A Basis in Israel’s Law of the Land
We also know that God then gave Israel a law for their governance as a separate and holy nation shortly after they came out of Egypt. (Exodus 19:5-6; Deut. 4:34). I call this the “law of the land.” (Deut. 4:5). It was to be a law governing this people as a separate and distinct nation among the nations of the Earth. It had territorial and jurisdictional limits. It was also given so that God himself could dwell among his people on the Earth and govern them as their King in residence, a reality that was never fully realized. (1 Kings 6:12-13; 9:3). Thus, prior to the law, the People of Israel at the founding of their nation, had operated briefly under the law of nature alone when they left Egypt. The People then entered into a covenant with God and received specific laws, statutes, ordinances and commands–the law of the land–for their governance. Some of the law of the land codified the law of nature, but that is a subject for another day.
Now I am asking a question about how Moses knew the law of God which preceded the more specific law of Israel. How did he know that law and how did he figure out which parts of that law applied to the people? And I am asking a third question about education–the education of the People, of the lawyers and the judges of that day. How did the People become educated about “the statutes of God and his laws” which Moses knew in the first place? Those questions sound like they ought to be of interest to students, legal educators, practicing lawyers and judges. They even ought to be relevant to Christian lawyers when we are not too busy with Christian fellowship and “personal growth” Bible studies with other lawyers.
BUT IS IT REALLY “SPIRITUAL” TO TALK ABOUT LAW FROM GOD’S POINT OF VIEW?
In chatting about these matters, most Christian professional educators I talk to, simply do not believe we can know as did Moses, “the statutes of God and his laws.” The unknowableness of “the statutes of God and his laws” is part of their wordlview. It is part of their legal faith and they are dogmatic about it.
As a matter of fact, I don’t think I have met more than a handful of professors of law or Deans who have really ever given it much thought. Far too typical are professors who are just clueless. For instance, one professor who had taught for more than 20 years in various Christian laws schools and who assured me that the Holy Spirit had lead him into “all truth,” could not even articulate one Biblically based principle of law which was related to the law school course he had taught all those years. I suggested to him he ask the Holy Spirit to speak a bit louder. Another Christian professor at a secular law school simply dismissed the relevance of any such knowledge and assured me his strong commitment to his particular religious tradition did not warrant such an inquiry. I suggested that the love of tenure and then burden of a mortgage were poor idols and did not deserve his adoration.
This is a crisis of faith. If we can’t know “the statutes of God and his laws” then what is there to teach? Any law school which purports to have the slightest affiliation with God, yet holds an unswerving commitment to the unknowableness of “the statutes of God and his laws” is simply perpetuating a fraud on its donors and students. No amount of chapels, fellowship, prayer or other collegiate religious exercise can mitigate the damages of this offense. But I digress.
HOW DO WE BECOME EDUCATED IN LAW FROM GOD’S POINT OF VIEW?
Leaving the questions over the knowableness of “the statutes of God and his laws”, and legal education of that law in general, let me jump forward about 1000 years. Historians say that about 1491 B.C. Israel received its law of the land from Moses, and that in 458 B.C. Ezra returned to Jerusalem after Israel lost its right to self-govern. That is about 1000 years. In other words, Israel had this great combination of law and with it, Israel rose in prominence as a nation among the community of nations to its greatest glory under King Solomon. After Solomon, however, the Kingdom was divided and over many generations fell into decline and dissolution. Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon eventually came against the last remnant Judah, and destroyed the City of Jerusalem, tore down its wall, virtually depopulated the land and carried away its war survivors to Babylon to serve him. (2 Kings 25:10-12; 2 Chronicles 36:17, 20-21). After 70 years a remnant returned to Jerusalem and eventually rebuilt the temple of God, first under Cyrus, then Darius and then Artaxerxes. (Ezra 6:13-15). And then Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the wall around the city. After several months the People who returned from Nebuchadnezzar’s depopulation campaign were all settled in their cities respectively. This is about 1000 years of history and law.
1. Ezra as an Example
Ezra then undertook a great legal reeducation campaign. We can learn from him. He contacted all the major ministries and printing houses. He created a web page, called for papers and invited scholars to a major conference. He got ABA approval. Well, actually he did none of these things. What he did was call all the people together in a large square. He then read the “Book of the Law of Moses” from morning until midday. Thirteen other people and all the Levites helped the people to then understand the law (Nehemiah 8:7). They read “distinctly from the book in the law of God, and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the meaning.” (Nehemiah 8:8).
I would submit to you that if Israel’s law of the Land survived 1000 years including Babylonian captivity, maybe there is something in it that we should explore. But even more significantly, if the people treated the law of their land in such a way after such a long period of time, how much more fixed and binding is the law of nature which preceded that law? What happened to “the statutes of God and his laws” way back there in Exodus 18 given passage of some 1000 years of history. It was still effective along with Israel’s law of the land! And we see that one of the first things the people begin discussing in Ezra 9:11-12 (which was originally given in Deut. 7:3-4, 6) is a particular law of the land. Isn’t that interesting–hard core repentant idolaters talking about the law of God which governs their land. Perhaps there is something in the story for us today.
2. Law Schools and Legal Organizations Are Not Examples
Now what law school, legal based ministry or church do this today? What school bothers to read the law of God in nature or even the law of our land–the Declaration of Independence and the Constitutions of the states and the United States? I never read one of these in law school. Law school is not about reading the law. Law professors do not read “distinctly from the book,” nor do they give the sense of the law or help the student to understand the meaning. We use the Socratic method as a substitute for reading the law, rather than a servant of the law. We teach from the case almost exclusively and lead the student to believe that from this tangled seamless web the contours of law will emerge.
And if I may digress for a paragraph, today few lawyers, Christian or otherwise, say that the law of the our land–the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution–mean today what they meant just 200 years ago. Israel quotes its law to the letter after 1000 years. We can’t fathom that our law of the land is the same after 200. Even given the obvious fact that our American law was given from the hand of men and not God (and thus included Article V pertaining to amendments), few lawyers will go back and say this or that clause means now what it meant then. It is not in our legal faith to do so. Our gods will not permit it. The original Constitution runs contrary to all our current idols. The articles of our legal faith are an evolving constitution, judicial supremacy, Court made law, the supplanting of unalienable rights with fundamental rights, the balancing of those rights against rational and compelling state interests, the incorporation doctrine, substantive due process, a broad commerce power, titles of nobility or special privileges and exemptions from law based on religious belief, etc.
HOW DO I BECOME EDUCATED IN LAW FROM GOD’S POINT OF VIEW (before I save the world)?
If anyone wants to begin to think about law from God’s point of view, might I simply suggest that he or she start to do so and don’t wait for anyone else. The place to start thinking about law, is with the idea that God, in fact, actually has a point of view on law; that we are duty-bound to find out what it is; and likewise obligated to ascertain to what extent He intends it to be relevant to the United States. This is the challenge. This is the crucial challenge.
I do not advise you wait for your law school to do it. Do not wait for your Church or preacher to do it. Do not wait for other attorneys or professional societies to do it. They may never do it. Their legal training and spiritual disposition militate against ever doing it: their educational alliances are too restrictive, their religious traditions too embedded, and their donor base wouldn’t stand for it. The challenge is to each of us individually to begin to read “distinctly from the book,” glean the sense thereof, and join with others in helping to gain an understanding of the meaning and relevance of God’s view on law, as it applies to the United States today.