Is God’s law arbitrary? This may seem a frivolous question if you are more practically inclined. Surely, there are more rewarding pursuits, such as evangelism, than tedious philosophical gymnastics, you might think but perhaps you should take a closer look for this question is pregnant with implications.
If God’s law is arbitrary, as a lot of people believe, then imposing laws based on our perceptions of God’s law is justifiable. Have you noticed how a lot of the hot air around LGBT issues is tinged with a religious aroma? Romans 1 is stirred in with Sodom’s last night and then hurled into debates as a spiritual grenade meant to stop all discussion by reminding everybody that any departure from heteronormativity makes God lose His cool.
If sin’s ultimate badness comes from the fact that it makes God lose His cool and incinerate entire cities, then it must mean God’s law is arbitrary.
What are we to do with those chunks of the Bible that do not support the idea of law as an imposed arbitrary code? Take Psalm 119 for instance. It is a long song praising God’s law as illumination. It is an acrostic ode serenading God’s law as beneficial and one does not walk away from this song with the impression that God’s Law is arbitrary.
The reason many are comfortable, even favourable, with an arbitrary God is the mistaken association of freedom with anarchy. This is why all dictatorships demand the sacrifice of freedom for order and security. We are unable to visualise freedom and order on earth, how then can we imagine it in heaven?
God, however, is not allergic to our freedom. From the beginning, He created us with the power of choice. Even after sin had spread its pungency throughout the world and our psyches, God remained committed to our freedom. At Sinai, He forged a nation free from taxation; a society in which property rights were inalienable. Deuteronomy 17:14-20 describes a weird king. This is a monarch without wealth and military might, a monarch without prestige and sexual license. Good luck finding a leader who can follow this ideal. Even the wise Solomon broke every point in there (see 1 Kings 10-11) even though the Queen of Sheba reminded him that God had enthroned Solomon to rule with justice.
In Daniel 7, God presents Daniel with a vision revealing the true foundation of anarchy. Disorder arises not from freedom but from selfishness, arrogance and lust for power. Behind, the strife and turbulence in this world lies an insidious desire to be like The Man. In our haste to determine the identity of the kingdoms represented by the beasts, we neglect a far more important imperative: their nature.
Both religious and civic powers have strived to bring about order but they have ultimately failed. Have you not seen protesters marching in streets and clergymen exposed by #churchtoo? Remember too that senseless wars have watered fields with the blood of millions. Despite our haughty claims and chest beating, we are still fragmented. Despite the heavy hands of despotism and arbitrary laws, disorder reigns, taunting our failure to overpower it.
Insurrection would be the solution if Daniel 7 only ended with the beasts but it does not. Only the Ancient of Days and The Man can solve the conundrum. The Man has received power (the kingdom) from The Ancient of Days and He seeks to disperse it. It seems counterintuitive at first but the realisation that anarchy stems not from freedom but from the selfish arrogant desire for power, leaves us with no viable choice but surrender to The Man. He is the solution.
At creation, the animals were subordinate to man but with sin’s distortion, they became rebellious as an object lesson pointing out our rebellion against God as the source of trouble. God’s law is anything but arbitrary. It is a revelation of the order of the universe. Strife can only be held at bay by eschewing selfishness and pride and embracing the commitment to the freedom of all. Only The Man can bring that about.
Sure, we as God’s people must engage society and participate in it but we should be wary of trying to fuse the pulpit and the throne. That can only lead to tyranny. It is for us to speak truth to power, calling all to forsake the lust for power, not only with our words but with our deeds. We cannot speak truth to power before we have heard it ourselves. It is easy to point out the wrong that others do but have you uprooted that boastful arrogant little horn in your own heart?
God’s law is a law of freedom. Thank God for the Sabbath to remind us of this. Who can forget that very first Sabbath, when God took a break from giving orders and filled it with His presence? Holy time. The silent invitation to mankind to fill the Sabbath with his presence too. Who can forget the linking of the Sabbath with emancipation in Deuteronomy 5? It is as if God declares to each one of us, “Hey, I made you and redeemed you so we could hang out.” How free is that? Sabbath is freedom and points us to the God who calls us to forsake the horny way of selfishness, arrogance and violent power mongering to embrace The Man instead. God’s law is freedom.
photo credit: Stephen D. Melkisethian Government Lockout Rally 3 via photopin (license)