Friday, January 28, 2011

Letter of Law - Mountainside Chats

When I was a kid, I was even more absent-minded than I am now. One time in fifth grade, I left my chair pulled back from my desk when the class was leaving the room. Right as we were going to leave the room, the teacher noticed and asked me to push in my chair. For some reason, I was really frustrated. I stormed over to the desk and slammed the chair into place. As the line of students passed through the door, the teacher stopped me and gave me a stern rebuke. I argued that I had done what she said. Technically, I was right, but I knew my behavior was unacceptable. 
It seems to me that judicial systems exist partially to determine when laws allow for harmful behavior that does not adhere to the spirit of the law. As a social scientist, it often seems to me that the often arbitrary nature of laws is frustratingly simple. For example, there is nothing neurologically or physiologically magical that occurs on one’s eighteenth birthday which necessitates an immediate leap into the responsibility of adulthood. However, I definitely agree with the spirit behind those laws, which is that young adolescents are often not capable or the same self-regulation and/or complexity in thinking as older adults.
In Matthew 5:20, Jesus tells his crowd of listeners that they should obey and live by the spirit of the law, surpassing those who merely follow the letter of the law. The main law-followers of the day (known as the Pharisees) seem to have had a habit of excessive law interpretation and rationalization. They would use these intellectual arguments to satisfy their own purposes, missing out on what God intended as the law-giver. For example, they would give money to the poor so that they could technically get out of supporting their parents in their old age. 
I think this situation is very applicable to Christians today. I think we often act like I did in fifth grade, begrudgingly following the rules. May be we give, but to we have a spirit of generosity? We might worship, but do we do so in spirit and in truth? We want to love, but can we really seek someone else’s good above our own?

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