If you have not read host Hewitt’s Thursday evening WaPo column on lawlessness you really should. It is a brief trip down the rabbit hole that is American law and regulation these days. As someone who works on a daily basis to help his clients comply with federal, state and local regulation, I have to second Hewitt’s sentiment in the piece. He cites four large and broad problems, but I run into similar issues on smaller levels daily. When winding up to his conclusion Hewitt asks:
Do we really want government, at any level, to pick and choose which of the Constitution’s provisions will apply today?
That question should be asked not just about constitutional provisions, but about duly passed laws and regulations of all sorts. People have to know what is expected of them and justice demands that such be enforced evenly and regularly. I am reminded of my visit to the Soviet Union in the very early 1990’s. I was meeting with the people in charge of the municipal water supply for the city of (well, then anyway) Leningrad. We had a long discussion about the fact that they were so heavily regulated by so many agencies that there simply were insufficient resources for compliance. Moreover, many of the regulations were in conflict with one another. They were left only with picking and choosing what they thought was most important and fast talking their way through the rest of it. In another instance the head of a factory, in a different Soviet city, faced me and said with an absolute straight face (standing directly beneath a portrait of Lenin I would add) that his factory had not suffered an industrial accident or illness in over 50 years – something that statistically is a virtual impossibility. Such a governmental environment breeds dishonesty.
Which leads me to what I really want to write about this Sunday morning. Hewitt’s penultimate sentence
Once the law is whatever any authority says it is, the result is chaos.
is extraordinarily deep. The chaos that results is not simply legal or governmental; as we have seen from the lying that was so prevalent in the Soviet Union, it is a chaos of the soul.
The work of Jesus is all about love and forgiveness, but we have come to think about these things as the absence of law, or standards. Nothing could be further from the truth. Without law there is no forgiveness for there is no transgression. Without forgiveness, love becomes the cheapest of commodities. In the season when we prepare ourselves to celebrate Christ’s ultimate sacrifice, it is heartbreaking to think of how this phenomena makes a mockery of that sacrifice.
Jesus quite famously said that he did not come to abolish law, but to fulfill it. He did so in many ways. Most prevalently He did so through His sacrifice and resurrection which purifies us in a fashion that permits the Holy Spirit to work in us and change us so that we might become people that naturally comply, as opposed to doing so through threat of negative reinforcement and subsequent acts of will. But in His public ministry He also did much more that was designed to fulfill the law.
Jesus constantly debated the religious officialdom of the time – those that interpreted and reinterpreted the law. He challenged them about Sabbath observation laws on more than one occasion. It was an act in defiance of such officialdom that started the events that lead to His crucifixion. The Apostle Paul, especially in Romans, talks about the law as an indicator of our need for Christ. Jesus knew that too much law, and arbitrarily applied law, would not indicate our need for Him, but rather lead to the chaos of the soul that I witnessed first hand in the Soviet Union. Moreover, this soul chaos is becoming more and more apparent in the United States today.
The United States is a Christian nation on very deep levels. Our checks and balances and our limitations of government are ideas rooted in Christian thought. But our natural human tendency is for the law, overburdening and capricious, that leads to lawlessness. The sacrifice of Christ makes it possible for us to overcome this tendency – if we will but take that sacrifice for our own.