Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Explanation of the Law

I never did well in high school English courses that dealt with the interpretation of literature or poetry.  For example, the teacher could read a poem about a squirrel gathering nuts and then I was supposed to get out of it a commentary on human rights in Africa.  I have never been able to read into a story what seems to me to be an unrelated idea.  Even after the metaphor was explained, I still often thought that it was a bunch of hooey.

Fortunately, the Bible does not have to be read in this manner.  When a metaphor is used, the Author sees fit to explain it to us.  God's laws are not read in this abstract manner either, but there is often more to them than initially appears on the surface.  Christ in Matthew 5 explained deeper meanings to God's laws than were previously understood.  Calvin expounds on this idea of deeper meanings of God's laws even further, not adding to the law but explaining the reasoning behind Christ's interpretation.

He opens with getting the reader to agree that "through the law a man's life is molded not only to outward honesty but to inward and spiritual righteousness."  That is the intent of God's law - to be transformed inwardly.  The Pharisees did not grasp this.  They believed that they were righteous for their strict interpretations of the law even though their hearts were just as corrupt as anyone else.  God's laws are more stringent that human laws.  "Human laws, then, are satisfied when a man merely keeps his hand from wrongdoing.  On the contrary, because the heavenly law has been given for our souls, they must at the outset be constrained, that it may be justly observed."  So human laws are begin and end with physical deeds while God's laws are concerned with our hearts and our hands.  Paul refers to the law being spiritual in Romans 7:14.  Calvin responds, "By this he means that it not only demands obedience of the soul, mind, and will, but it requires and angelic purity, which, cleansed of every pollution of the flesh, savors of nothing but the spirit."

Calvin makes it clear in the next section that he is not coming up with a new interpretation of God's law, but he is following Christ, "its best interpreter."  As I said before, the Pharisees were concerned with observing the letter of the law, and if they succeeded in that they believed that they were righteous.  Christ shattered this idea when he told them if they were angry with their brother than they have committed murder in their hearts and if they looked on a woman with lust than they have committed adultery.  "They have thought that Christ added to the law when he only restored it to its integrity, in that he freed and cleansed it when it had been obscured by the falsehoods and defiled by the leaven of the Pharisees."  See Matthew 16:5-12.

We should do our best to understand God's law and His purpose behind the laws, "that is, in each commandment to ponder why it was given to us."  We must at the same time be careful not to add to the law.  "Thus in each commandment we must investigate what it is concerned with; then we must seek out its purpose, until we find what the Lawgiver testifies there to be pleasing or displeasing to himself."  With each commandment, we should determine what it is that is pleasing to God.  If he commands that we act, we know that this pleases God.  We should also reason that the opposite is displeasing to God.  If God forbids something, we know that this is displeasing to God.  So we should also reason that the opposite would be pleasing to Him.  In the first commandment, God tells us that He alone is to be worshiped.  We know that worshiping God pleases Him.  By this logic, we can also understand that not worshiping Him or worshiping another god is displeasing to Him.  It is through this logic that we can understand the law fully.

Calvin continues this line of thinking in the next section on commandments and prohibitions.  When a command is issued by God, the opposite is against God.  "For by the virtue contrary to the vice, men usually mean abstinence from the vice.  We say that the virtue goes beyond this to contrary duties and deeds.  Therefore in this commandment, 'You shall not kill,' men's common sense will see only that we must abstain from wronging anyone or desiring to do so.  Besides this, it contains, I say, the requirement that we give our neighbor's life all the help we can."  So not only should you not take your neighbor's life, you should add to it however you are able.

God uses certain labels for our vices in order to shock us into hating our sin.  Instead of using "hatred" or "anger", God chose the word "murder" in the command.  Jesus clarified that God wanted not only the physical act of killing another to be seen as a sin, but also the anger against another that could bring about the physical act.  Not only the act of sleeping with another man's wife should be considered a sin when God forbid "adultery," but also lust.  The words "murder" and "adultery" are harsh words which God chose to show us the severity of our sin, rather than "anger" and "lust".  "Thus moved by judgment, we ourselves become accustomed better to weigh the gravity of transgressions, which previously seemed light to us."

Tomorrow's reading: 2.8.11-2.8.15

No comments:

Post a Comment

Presbyterian Bloggers
Powered By Ringsurf