Thursday, February 04, 2010

If what's legal is not immoral, then is it immoral to do what's illegal?

My, oh, my, how skilled I am at justifying what I want to do. But this time, I hit a wall. This time, the Bible wins.

First there’s this:

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. – Romans 13:1

This makes one point: Christians cannot ignore the law. It says that if an action is illegal, Christians have a moral obligation to obey it as if in obedience to God. However, this is not the whole story. There is the case when the Earthly law contradicts God’s Transcendent instruction.

So, there’s this:

Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 'We gave you strict orders not to teach in this Name,' he said. 'Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man's blood.' Peter and the other apostles replied: ‘We must obey God rather than men!' – Acts 5:29

This makes another point: Christians are not subject to man’s law when man’s law contradicts God’s instruction. And so, to know which laws are to be obeyed we must identify those laws which contradict God.

We should categorize laws into two camps.

First, Moral laws that corresponds to God’s law or contradicts God’s instruction. An example of these would be Abortion laws, Capital Punishment laws, some laws regarding Religion, Marriage, and Military Service.

LawFor this first group of laws, many will be in harmony with the teachings of the Scriptures. Some will be in stark contrast, while other are fuzzy – their relationship to God’s law is not obviously in accord or against it.

Second, Cultural laws (sometimes called Ceremonial laws) generally have more to do with contemporary, practical matters. An example of these would be zoning laws, speeding laws, and tax and immigration laws.

For the second group of laws, some may have some tangential reference to God’s instructions, but generally have more to do with a majority’s will in a society. Few would martyr for a zoning law.

SpeedBut, you might ask, what if a Cultural law seems like it should be elevated to a Moral law? An example might be immigration. What if you feel the immigration law, as it stands, seems immoral?

First, remember that God has placed over us Authorities. And we are responsible, and have a duty to, humble ourselves before these Authorities – operating inside our society as Christ’s ambassadors, not combatants.

Second, remember that issues are complex. Most people who are “religious” about issues abstract the matter away from the realities of it, to a simpler, less complex, more convenient moral dilemma. Resist this.

ProtestWarThird, remember God has spoken clearly about some moral issues, but other moral issues he has only alluded a greater principal. The application of these secondary issues requires an interpretation. And you could be wrong.

Forth, like me, most people misuse their God-given intellect to scour the details around us in search of loop holes and justifications for the actions and issues we prefer. It is very difficult to recognize when this is happening.

Finally, God has given us counsel in 5 ways, and as a matter of general guidance in our lives, these counsels should generally agree with us. To that point, let me lay out the 5 counsels of God:

  1. The Holy Scripture. It is imperative that your perspective not be in contradiction to the Bible. However, there are issues that the Bible does not speak to directly. The key here is to avoid contradiction.
  2. Christian Witnesses. One of the purposes of the local church is to place around us a cloud of Christian witnesses to help hold us accountable. Your issue should rightly resonate in the ears of these Christian counselors.
  3. Prayer and Revelation. A real way God speaks is visions, quickening the mind, and giving understanding. God may speak directly to you as a counsel, but even this needs to be weighed against your own mind’s tricks.
  4. Signs and Miracles. Sometimes God speaks through the miraculous. These are often overlooked unless our mind is open to see them. Should we allow skepticism to dominate our mind, we may miss these confirmations.
  5. Practicality. Although I know God transcends this material world, I also know his truth is consistent.I also know that, generally speaking, what is truly good is not just ethereally, but practically good.

Using these as a guide, you can weigh the convictions you have against them. Assuming that a majority are in concert with you and none are diametrically opposed, you can feel confirmed in your conviction.

GuideShould you find yourself at odds with these five helpers, it does not mean (necessarily) that your issue is unjust, and that you are incorrect. What it does mean is that your confirmation is not as easy.

Should you find yourself in harmony with these five helpers, conversely, you must also review the circumstances and be assured you are not allowing the circumstances and your own intellect construct the desired answer.

Nonetheless, God has given us these counsels. And although we may abuse them, and although we may prevail for a season of wrong, they are what we have been given to guide us when the answer is not clear.

When you feel the need to elevate a Cultural law to a Moral issue, be sure, first, that you are rightly align with the scripture (the foremost of God’s counsels) and then with the remaining. Should you find yourself outside this counsel, don’t give up, but certainly do not charge in as if justified.

He has showed you, O man, what is good.
       And what does the LORD require of you?
       To act justly and to love mercy
       and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8

To tailor back to previous posts, God’s Justice is a matter of moral consequence. But remember, speeding (as an example) may be a Cultural law, but your duty to obedience is a Moral responsibility.

Then there is one more question.

What if this Cultural law exists, but the Authorities do not enforce the law? Should then our Moral duty to obedience apply when the law only exists as a vestige of bureaucratic delay?

I don’t have an answer to this one. Not yet.

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