Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Foundational Law Quotes II

Is this not the kind of fast I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and provide the poor wanderer with shelter –
when you see the naked to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then will your light break forth like the dawn . . .
if you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in darkness,
and your night will be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always . . .
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations . . .”

- Isaiah 58:3 - 12

16 comments:

Benjamin Bush Jr. said...

Is this passage to have a general application or is there a particular context which guides our interpretation and application?

Dean McConnell said...

I think the passage has general application in principle, even though it was spoken in a particular context. Such is the way in which Scripture and good laws work.

Benjamin Bush Jr. said...

Is it not significant that the Lord is speaking to His People in this entire passage? Where in the Word of God does He call those who do not know Him or reject Him to do what he requires in this passage without first coming to him in repentance and faith? How does this significant difference affect the lawmaking process of man's legal venue outside the saving grace of God?

Dean McConnell said...

The passage shows what God is like and what he wants. The nature of the law of God is to do what God approves of and to do as he would have us do. The law of God is binding upon all people in all places and at all times, whether they come to faith in Jesus or not. This is why God judges each individual human and the nations - for the violation of His law.

By coming to faith in Christ and repenting of our unbelief we will be saved from the wrath of God upon sin. We are also given the power of the Holy Spirit and the sanctifying influence of God's Word to transform us and enable us, by and by, to keep God's law more than we did before we came to Christ. The law is no longer the basis for the Christians relationship to God. Instead we relate to God in Christ. But the law still tells us about God and how he wants us to live. This does not mean though that we must follow all of the rules in the five books of Moses. Many of the rules of worship and ceremony are fulfilled in Christ. So they remain examples of the principles involved - worship, atonement, etc. - but the specific context has charged. But, the moral law does not change. It remains.

God's instructions to free the oppressed are part of the principles of the moral law. They apply to all. When the Communists or the Islamofascists or the old south oppressed people, they were violating God's law. They should have freed the oppressed instead.

Those who are not of the people of God will not keep God's laws. But the closer they come to doing so, the better off they are. No doubt God prefers faithless Sweden to faithless North Korea.

Human laws must be for both the believer and the non-believer. They cannot require all virtue or punish all vice. But they should maintain basic order and work for the common good while not interfering with our liberty to worship and serve God or the liberty to choose among goods. God's law serves as a guide and limit to just human law making.

Dean McConnell said...
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Benjamin Bush Jr. said...

In light of what Jesus said in John 3, "he that believeth not is condemned already," Is it possible that God has given Faithless Sweden and North Korea laws comensurate with their level of unbelief and immorality as individual nations? And is this preference according to the law of sowing and reaping?

Also, are you implying that God used the oppressive North (slavery was present there also)to free the slaves in the oppressive South? I ask this because Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation only freed the Southern Slaves. A constitutional Amendment was needed after his death to legally free the Northern slaves.

Also, are you implying that America has the moral authority to free all oppressed nations and ethnic groups on earth.
And how does this relate to your statement that "They cannot require all virtue or punish all vice." If this is true, when does America deliver the oppressed?

Dean McConnell said...

Benjamin Bush wrote:

"In light of what Jesus said in John 3, "he that believeth not is condemned already," Is it possible that God has given Faithless Sweden and North Korea laws comensurate with their level of unbelief and immorality as individual nations? And is this preference according to the law of sowing and reaping?"

DRM says: Yes. Yes. But we tend to expect too little from non-believers so far as their governments go. Even though they are blind and in slavery to sin, they do not have to be as evil as the worst human governments have been. It is in everyone's interest for evil to be restrained.

Benjamin Bush wrote:
"Also, are you implying that God used the oppressive North (slavery was present there also)to free the slaves in the oppressive South?"

DRM says: Yes. But the north, while far from perfect, was less oppressive than the old south in many ways. I do not believe moral equivalency is a Biblical idea any more than self righteousness or arrogance.

Benjamin Bush wrote:
"I ask this because Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation only freed the Southern Slaves."

DRM says: Which was all he could do alone under the circumstances because of the slave states with the North in the war and consistent with his power as commander in chief during a war with the South.

Benjamin Bush said:
"A constitutional Amendment was needed after his death to legally free the Northern slaves."

DRM says: Yes. According to the Republican platform position. And but for the cotton gin, legal positivism, and the Supreme Court there could have been one much earlier.

Benjamin Bush wrote:
"Also, are you implying that America has the moral authority to free all oppressed nations and ethnic groups on earth."

DRM: Yes. But not just America. Anybody. But that does not mean we can do so as a practical matter. America does not have the power or the treasure to free all the oppressed everywhere or to keep them free. Other nations would resent it and fight it if we tried to anyway. People would often prefer to be oppressed by people like themselves than to be at liberty under the protection of strangers. But we should work to do what we can do. Sometimes, when oppressive nations become aggressive, but are weak enough to deal with, we must do so, not only for the sake of the oppressed, but fro the sake of those who will be killed and oppressed when such nations expand.

Benjamin Bush wrote:
"And how does this relate to your statement that "They cannot require all virtue or punish all vice." If this is true, when does America deliver the oppressed?"

DRM says: Human law must consider what is practical. We can restrain some evil and oppression, but not all evil and oppression. True 100% justice will not come to earth till Jesus returns and restores all things. But in the meantime, government is meant to be God's instrument to restrain evil and oppression and promote good as much as is practical till He returns.

The Bible rejects the idea that it is appropriate or OK for government to do evil or promote evil because most people are not true Christians or because we live in a sinful world, while at the same time recognizing the practical limits of sinful human beings in history - recognizing, but not approving.

Benjamin Bush Jr. said...

Are you then saying that God can choose the lesser of two evil nations in order to punish or correct the greater evil nation? and at the same time not approving of certain actions of each?

Dean McConnell said...

Yes. That is not all I am saying, but that is true. God can also use a more evil nation to chasten a less evil nation. But he brings all to judgemment sooner or latter who do not come to God through His grace.

Benjamin Bush Jr. said...

So evil nations, in a very real sense, can be ordained of God to exercise authority?

Dean McConnell said...
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Dean McConnell said...

Yes and no in two different senses.
God uses all human governments because He is sovereign over history.

God has ordained that humans should have government in general. And government is meant to be God's servant to punish evil and reward good. Most governments, even evil ones, do this much of the time because general order is in everyone's interest. Even totalitarian states punish thieves and murderers who do not work for the government.

But, when governments promote evil and punish good, they loose their legitimacy to whatever degree they do so. They become more a band of thugs than a government. This is why even non-Christians need not tolerate governments like those today in North Korea, the historic government of Nazi Germany, the Committee of Public Safety in revolutionary France, or the government of the Terror in revolutionary Russia. Whoever is in authority and holds on to the good is justified in acting to get rid of tyrants and bring just order, even if only the humble postal city clerk alone is sensible.

We are happy to live in a land where we can change our government through politics instead of force. And, even though, because of the churches rebellion against political responsibility, we have few strong mature Christians in government work, we still have a reasonably good government (apart from the law on abortion, cloning, and education etc.) thanks to the prayers and laws of our Christian forefathers, imperfect though they may have been.

God does use all human governments, but not all human governments are legitimate governments. Authority goes with relative obedience as well as role.
As Samuel Rutherford pointed out in 1644, Parents, teachers and ministers also have authority ordained by God and are used by God. But if they commit crimes against their charges they can be removed from their offices. If a whole regime commits crimes against its people, or the people of other lands, the officers of that criminal government can be justly removed and replaced with better men and women.

Benjamin Bush Jr. said...

At what point, then, does a government become illegitimate and forfeit the right to exercise authority. Directly related to that, at what point does an individual or group gain the right to resist or oppose (remove from power) a governemnt they deem to be illegitmate?

Dean McConnell said...

That is a matter of prudence and specific circumstances. Obviously great patience needs to be used because attempts to get rid of bad governments can fail or make things worse.

Opposition to a government should be by those who have some form of governmental authority too. The American Revolution is a good example. The legitimate colonial legislatures opposed the English king and privy council. The war to free Texas and the Glorious Revolution in England are other good examples. The Terrors in France and in Russia are examples of illegitimate revolutions. Also, a revolutionary movement can be less legitimate than the government it seeks to replace: e.g. Nazis and Sandinistas.

Benjamin Bush Jr. said...

Mr McConnell,
You didn't really address my first concern about when a government becomes illegitmate. Your examples, Nazis, Sandinistas can be added to. Look at Russia and China, Iraq, in other words, many parts of the world. Yet, many of these examples pale in comparison to the close to 40 million officially legal murders, not to mention the other immoral practices in the name of law in this country. ANd we're contemplating others. And America tends to export her values.

Where is the line of demarcation? How much evil must be accomplished before that line is crossed? Who gets to determine that standard? Does it lie in individual conscience? group conscience?
Or does it lie with some other person or group? Do men get to determine this or God? If it is God, then how does he make that known. Or has He already? If so, where?

Dean McConnell said...

The allowance of abortion in the United States is an illegitimate and unlawful human law. It is tyranny and it does undermine the legitimacy of the regime. (Hadley Arkes has an excellent book on this point). But we can and should change our office holders and judges through political means, and work for a change of view by lawyers and those who teach them as well as the rest of the country. That is one of the major reasons for Trinity Law School. If lawyers and judges and policy makers are not taught to understand that abortion is wrong and why it is wrong the pernicious practice will not fade away by itself. All that said, the US is still a better country with a better legal system overall than nearly all of the rest. At least we can obtain peaceful change if we work at it and preach the gospel and pray.

As for the other questions, there is no clear black and white line. That is why it is a matter for the exercise of prudence or wisdom.

God is the ultimate standard. Much of His will and thought is revealed to us without error in the Bible. Within the application of the Bible to life we must pray, use our heads, consult together with wise believers, and pay attention to history. There is no central human authority for such matters. We reject the magisterium of the catholic church. We do not substitute any human authority as infallible.

This may seem hard. But all of life's moral issues are like this. God has revealed Himself and His law to us in the Bible and in Jesus Himself. He has given us reason. He has given believers the Holy Spirit and the mind of Christ. We must make choices and act. Sometimes we will be wrong. Sometimes it will be difficult to tell. But difficulty does not justify hiding from moral choices or conflicts.