Law: Corporate or Personal?

Note: Technical glitches led to the loss of the first 20 minutes or so of this meeting, comprising mainly Don’s introductory remarks.

Donald: We are engaged in a form of virtual reality right now, by meeting in a virtual place using Skype. On screen, I can see some of those physically present in the classroom looking at their smartphones. There was a time when we might have objected to that behavior, but today we assume they are simply reading the Bible on them. In like vein, the fulfillment of the law is understanding the experience as a whole, not all the little details. Doctrine is useless unless one believes in what it represents. We want virtual reality to get us as close as possible to the real thing, but that may not be good enough for a relationship with Christ.

David: If law is experience, then the contradiction goes away. If anyone changes the experience one iota, then s/he is in trouble; however, the experience is fundamentally something that can change of itself.

Donald: We all bring different experiences to the table.

Anonymous: I concluded some time ago that experience is the difference between evangelizing and witnessing. Witnessing stems from direct personal life experience; evangelizing is intermediated by the Bible, or a priest.

Donald: We experience the same thing in different ways. I might feel it’s too hot to venture out, while you do not. So we mistrust personal experience and seek objective data. We want a dashboard to guide us.

Robin: It’s application, is it not? Until we apply these words, ideals, and lessons at the personal level and experience the result, they remain just dry reading material. We don’t know what to do with the information if we are not experiencing it. It is like trivia.

Don: But is personal experience a foundation for an actionable effort by a church organization, with everyone having a different viewpoint? It seems to go counter to the notion of identity. When Jesus says that He is bringing fulfillment and life and an experience to the law, to doctrine, and to ideas, is that actionable in today’s spiritual and religious economy?

Donald: Is it about grouping people of similar thoughts who are thus able to relate, communicate, and concur with one another? Why group people of differing thoughts if they cannot agree with one another? The congregational church is group of people who have agreed upon what the experience is. But evangelism is saying: “You’ve got it wrong.” …I think…. (That’s really a question.)

David: It’s a matter of getting down to fundamentals. These are the things we need to agree on. The details don’t matter. Long ago I attended a Unitarian Universalist Church meeting. The fundamentals constitute their creed. You think it’s cold out? I happen to think it’s warm, but this is irrelevant, having nothing to do with the fundamentals. There is understanding and no conflict regarding different experiences, and there is agreement on the fundamentals of faith.

Don: The Jews accused Jesus of heresy.

Jay: Jesus said He came to fulfill the law, then went on to talk in terms that seemed to have nothing to do with the law as the Jews understood it. He talked instead about turning the other cheek, the first being last and vice versa, and so on. In essence, He talked about experiencing the law rather than just following it.

Robin: It’s like the difference between the spirit and the letter of the law.

Don: It’s the middle of the night, the street is empty of vehicular and foot traffic, except for a lone pedestrian arriving at a red pedestrian light blinking “Don’t Walk!” The purpose of the traffic law is to prevent an accident. If an accident is impossible in some circumstances, what is the purpose of the law?

Jay: But the circumstances usually require obedience to the law, or there would be accidents. The law covers most people most of the time.

Donald: But you can’t subjectively decide when it’s OK to obey or disobey the law.

Jay: That’s the problem with law.

Donald: We rely on experience to tell us whether it’s safe to cross the road.

David: It is the difference between law and judgment. I recall reading about a Welsh judge who, after a jury found a daughter guilty of the mercy killing of her mother who was in chronic pain and had long begged her daughter to do it, told the daughter: “The law has found you guilty, but I can show you mercy.” I don’t recall the sentence he imposed but it was exceptionally light if not suspended. The law and judgment ought to go together.

Robin: There is danger in growing accustomed to crossing red lights.

Anonymous: A value of the law is that breaking it leads to the experience of hurt and pain. It enriches our experience.

Robin: Is law to be followed only when it is convenient do do so?

Donald: That would be a guideline, not a law.

Robin: Or a suggestion. It can be accepted or rejected.

Jeff: It’s a guideline, a common, shared, acquiesced view of people who have collectively decided that this is the rule under which we will live.

Don: …most of the time.

Jeff: Right. But as you’ve illustrated, again and again, there are instances where the law just does not fit. It is humanly impossible to make a law that is universally applicable in all situations. We can probably come up with instances where what is morally, ethically correct goes against the law. But surely this cannot be said of God’s law.

Dr. Singh: According to the Bible, to break the law is to sin. When we break a family rule, the family will divide. If we break a church rule, the church will divide. God has given us the Holy Spirit to help us live according to God’s law by alerting us when our own sinful nature is tempted to sin. The Holy Spirit is our guide.

Don: God told Samuel to go and anoint David as the new king of Israel. Samuel replied that if Saul were to find out about it, Saul would have his head. So God told him to take a bullock with him, and to tell anyone who asked what he was up to that he was going to make a sacrifice. In other words, God told him to tell a blatant lie, in contravention of His own 9th Commandment. God also told Hosea to marry a prostitute, thereby committing adultery and breaking the 7th Commandment! Jesus said we should hate our parents and follow Him, which seems to contradict the 5th Commandment. These are just a few instances that come to mind when we start to think of the immutability of God’s law. Can God make a law that He cannot change?

Jeff: God might provide laws that fit the human race at certain times. Perhaps Jesus was saying that there is a higher law that He came to fulfill, that rendered the Jewish law null and void.

Don: When the Jews asked him to state the higher laws, He gave them:

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40, NKJV)

Are those laws actionable? Is there enough granularity in them? Shouldn’t He be a bit more specific?

Donald: It’s not a solid support for trying to prove something. It’s not the go-to verse when someone demands to be shown where it states in the Bible that X is the case.

Jeff: That’s why God gave us the Ten Commandments—to provide the granularity without which we cannot function. Especially corporately.

Jay: Right. Is it actionable to learn to love God with all one’s heart and one’s neighbor as oneself? Is it easier to do so individually than it is on a corporate basis?

Jay: To do it on a corporate basis requires agreement among the group as to what constitutes loving one’s neighbor as oneself?

Robin: Loving God encapsulates the first four Commandments; loving one’s neighbor the other six.

Jay: Perhaps that is why Christ said He did not come to destroy the law. He meant to show that we had turned the Commandments away from what God intended. We did so in order to reflect our human sense of right and wrong, salvation, and forgiveness, and our own need for identity. We’ve turned God’s law into a civics lesson. That is not its purpose.

Robin: So the Rich Young Ruler could not divest himself of his riches because he was not willing to love his neighbor as himself?

Jeff: That’s the problem. We don’t know. We can’t apply it to other people.

Jay: The Rich Young Ruler kept all the Commandments. Jesus did not contradict him but told him it was not enough. Did He mean it was not enough for the RYR? Or not enough for anybody?

Jeff: We use the RUR as a litmus test, and that’s where it falls apart. We can’t live with the higher law.

Jay: …because we need specific protocols to do that, which are bound in time and culture as well as to the individual.

Jeff: I’m not sure there is law in heaven.

David: There is none in Daoism.

Jeff: Law may be necessary only given our current situation.

Chris: It’s a man-created construct.

Donald: Would other religions agree?

Don: If law is there to show us our sin, as Paul said, then it is not necessary where there is no sin.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Don: There will be a hiatus in class until April 6, when we will resume the topic.

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