Friday, April 28, 2006

Law: Blessings and Woes

Psalm 1 tells us that blessed is the man who meditates on the law of the Lord, day and night. But in Luke 11 Jesus says to experts in the law, woe to you.

At first glance, I'm tempted to resolve this tension by concluding that meditating on the law is fine as long as you do not become an expert. By that interpretation, I think I'll do just fine.

But, I'm a computer geek and two things come to mind. First is jUnit/nUnit - a suite of automated tests you can create to make help find mistakes in the software you write. You write a whole bunch of tests designed to sniff out your problems. You run these tests (like an examination of conscience) to detect errors as early and often as reasonble so you can fix errors. It makes fixing problems a lot easier because you have less places to look and your recent actions are still fresh in your memory. Are the Ten Commandments and the books of the Law like unit tests we should be running on our lives to help fix things before they cause trouble? If so, the Law is a blessed thing indeed.

Now the second thing that comes to mind is online role-playing games. The scourge of those games are "player-killers". Other players that run around plundering and looting your stuff, beating up your character, when all you want to do is make a few friends, live, and let live. The games often have "rules" and some "peace rooms" and guards to "assist the innocent". But these rules aren't published anywhere and are quite complex.

The player-killers know the rules inside and out. They know exactly what can and cannot be done without being flagged as "an agressor". They know how long the "agressor flag" lasts so that guards will assist them instead of you if you try to retaliate after this special amount of time goes by. They know sneaky and underhanded legal tricks. And they know how to whine to the administrators if you do something "illegal" in your attempt to defend yourself. The rules/laws now become an extra tool "player-killers" can use to beat up on newbies or smaller groups. Their aggressive and bullying behavior is precisely what drives them to know the laws really really well.

And perhaps this is what Jesus is getting at when he explains to the experts he rebukes them: "you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them". Jesus has said earlier that the entire point of the Law is to help us love God and our neighbor. But many of us prey off the misfortunes of others. And in our quest to sate our greed, we then use our knowledge of the Law to exploit, bully, and take advantage others. When we do this, we are not holy at all but in fact we have become the opposite of holy.

So when we use the laws like unit tests to check up on ourselves and correct our flaws, Psalm 1 applies and we can rest easy knowing we have chosen a blessed path. But when we use the laws (or theology, or the "system") to take advantage of others, we have become perhaps the most reviled thing in the New Testament: a Pharisee.

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