We would do well to take a lesson from the former Soviet Union. For the period following the end of WWII, the strong arm of Soviet control ruled over its multinational empire with an absolute, if fear generated control. Nevertheless, there was social and governmental order which held no mercy for those who attempted to “march to a different (socio-political) drummer” There was no such thing as an open market of ideas. There was simply Marx and Lenin, and especially Stalin, whose pogroms eliminated millions of people. These were, ironically, part of the process of creating the perfect world, which collapsed following Ronald Reagan’s now famous statement: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” That was the culmination of a number of bold stands taken by the likes of Lech Walesa, an electrician who scaled a fence to begin a strike in a shipyard in Gdansk, Poland, that led, in 1980 to the collapse of Communism in Poland, quickly followed by a similar collapse across eastern Europe (source: Wikipedia)
For a while there was great rejoicing, at least in the western world, but an amazing thing took place – very much like the collapse of the Roman empire. Many of the nations that had been held captive under the rigid law of the Soviet government, now felt the fresh air of opportunity to reestablish themselves in the peaceful pursuit of their own culture and character as sovereign states. But something preempted such progress with amazing rapidity. Old conflicts and ethnic hatreds surfaced with the ferocity of the Black Death, and these now free nations found themselves locked in genocidal hatred of one another.
The point of this is simple. Laws imposed with strict force, and quick punishment may keep order, but they do not change people’s hearts. That is the penultimate human problem. As the narrator that introduced an old radio program from the 1940s, said with great authority, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men…?” His answer: “The Shadow knows!? Something far more potent than any legal/political system, no matter how totalitarian, is needed to change a world that, as I have said elsewhere, has a love-affair with death.
It should be clear (though this clarity is really doubtful), that law is not the panacea to human ills. Yet for so many it would appear that wherever there is a human problem the cry is “make a law!” Legislate, regulate, it’s all the same. Yet it is unquestionably true that we cannot exist without those things. We may sing, “What the world needs now, is love, sweet love,…” and we may preach the same in churches, but fallen human beings cannot live unregulated lives without ending in tyranny or anarchy. Legalism, whether in society or in religion is the way of death. The more we are dependent upon law, the closer we get to our own extinction. Given the option between totalitarian enslavement, and an “every man for himself” anarchy, human beings will choose totalitarian control, no matter how much they may hate it, because they know, deep inside, that, as the cartoon character, Pogo Possum said, “We have seen the enemy, and he is us.” We choose this path, because we to not see any hope, and we do not see any hope because we refuse to believe that God and love can survive against a world of fallen human beings. So we continue to depend on law as the answer to every problem, and in so doing, we ultimately legislate ourselves out of the possibility of real, significant, and effective change. As Carlos opines, in answer to a question about change, in Spencer Johnson’s book, “Who Moved My Cheese,” “I guess we resist changing because we’re afraid of change.” The unknown is often more fearful than the known, no matter how bad the latter seems. We hope, “Maybe things will get better.” Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t. Shall we be free in the truth, or enslaved in what we know?
There are other problems that we create by our reliance upon law. The belief, consciously or unconsciously held, that laws is the answer to all problems pops up in virtually every area of society: education, labor laws, zoning laws, (the list is very long) A man’s word is no longer as good as gold because people are much less trustworthy now. Many issues that ought to be matters of common sense, are, instead, written into the law, thereby eliminating flexibility. One very damaging product of this is the degree to which it often becomes a stumbling block to innovation. Another is that we operate according to the presumption that “one-size-fits-all.” In other words, we force everyone and everything into categories which do not always fit, like flunking the student who took a test written on paper, but when he was given the same test orally, he scored high. An illustration of our plight can be seen in the recent issue in professional and college football. It came to our awareness because players have taken up a new tactic: four hundred pound players are crashing into each other deliberately. The latest results include one player now paralyzed from the neck down, and numerous others suffering severe concussions. Only lately have concussions come to be recognized as serious problems that can have terrible consequences, sometimes years after the event. Yet we saw reluctance from some to stop the practice and mete out appropriate punishment to those who persist in such aggressiveness. Where was common sense in any of that? Out the window. What was the method of dealing with it? Legal action – regulation. Why? Because they wouldn’t have stopped without regulation. One person heard on national TV commented that football players know what they’re getting into, as if to say, “He got injured…so what? It’s all part of the ‘game’” Translation: His life doesn’t have any intrinsic value.
Legalism is the life blood of bureaucracy. Everything must go according to the regulations, no deviation allowed. Might it surprise you to know God is not a legalist – in spite of Exodus 20, and Deuteronomy 5? Even Christians have trouble understanding why there is law in the Bible. They see it as a “to-do list,” for divine acceptance. They fail to notice that the sole (exclusive) reason for the existence of the law of the Old Testament, is found in Galatians 3:24: It is not there to provide us with all the proper regulations that, if practiced, please God, and give one brownie points on the way to heaven. It is there to drive fallen human beings to their knees to cry out for mercy, because building a kingdom based on a legalistic foundation is impossible. We need law only because we are fallen. There is a vast difference between law that regulates human behavior, and another kind of law. The law of behavior regulation works, if you want to be enslaved, or enslave others. The other kind of law (to call it a law is almost oxymoronic, only because of our common definitions of law and its bureaucratic nature). There is what the Bible calls “the law of love,” This is love which governs the heart - the “want to,” not the “have-to.” This love is true freedom, because it recognizes that it is impossible to command love. Love must come forth from the heart as a voluntary self-offering, like that which is demonstrated to us in Jesus Christ.
Law in our age has become an idol which we worship – because we worship ourselves, and we would not voluntarily change our ways without it. And the reason we would not voluntarily change our ways is because we want our own ways, and we do not care about the God of love, and we don’t have the will to give up self to let God govern our hearts.