Civil law is for the common good; God’s law is for individual good as well as the common good. Civil law is relative; God’s law is absolute.
Civil law may not necessarily be good for every individual, but it is good for society as a whole. Of necessity it is constantly changing, simply because what is best for society as a whole is constantly changing.
God’s law is limited in that it doesn’t cover every eventuality. There is, therefore, a great deal of room in society for civil law. Examples of this include the speed limit on the highway, regulations regarding immigration, local zoning codes, and the age when people are eligible to vote.
An illustration of civil law not necessarily being good for each individual can be seen in laws covering immigration. It may be argued that it is in my best interest to have my foreign friend become a citizen of the United States, but he may be unable to do so because he does not qualify.
Civil law, however, must always be subservient to and consistent with God’s law in order for a society to be under the authority of God. In the United States we claim to be a nation under God, as seen in the Pledge of Allegiance: “I pledge allegiance to the flag . . . , one nation under God, . . .” The fact that in practice we are not under the authority of God is what has caused so much trauma in our society these past several decades.
Relativism is embraced by a nation when it no longer recognizes God’s law and establishes civil law in violation of God’s law. In an earlier issue, for example, we noted that such a turn of events has resulted in our nation establishing laws condoning divorce, immorality and sodomy.
ESTABLISHING RELATIVE LAWS
When a society repudiates the premise that there exists a set of transcendent absolutes which are meant to govern all men, it is still faced with the need to establish some basis for law. No society can survive with each person defining right and wrong for himself. Thus a society that has embraced relativism falls back on two bases for determining right and wrong:
1. Fairness. Innate to each person is a sense of fair play. As children we all complained to our parents that it wasn’t fair that our brother or sister got a bigger piece of the pie than we did. This leads to laws that take from the rich and give to the poor.
If history has taught us anything, it is that a nation that allows too great a disparity between rich and poor cannot long survive. The Bible sought to ameliorate this disparity with Jubilee and admonitions not to neglect the poor. As already noted, there was no legislated enforcement of these commands in Old Testament Israel, but failure to comply was met with dire consequences.
An unwillingness to live under the authority of the Bible is a practical form of relativism, no matter what one’s theological presuppositions may be. When a person rejects God’s standard, then “fairness” legislated by law is where he ends. This is at the heart of socialism.
2. Negative Consequences. Because there are no absolutes, wrong is in the consequences of an act, rather than the act itself. This is why we conclude that it is wrong to deny women membership in the Rotary Club but allow consenting males to commit sodomy. With no absolute right and wrong, what other choice is there? It is the logical compromise between not allowing people complete and unbridled freedom and not enforcing a set of moral standards upon them.
For example, when we visit the memorial to the Holocaust in Israel, we find that there is no mention of sin or the fact that God is grieved by man’s inhumanity to man. Rather, the focus is on the consequences of the act (i.e. the near destruction of a people).
Again, in the movie, “The Killing Fields,” the story centers on the tragedy of millions of Cambodians being slaughtered rather than a wrong act being committed.
AIDS affords a case study of the dilemma a nation faces when it repudiates the existence of a set of transcendent absolutes. Rarely in history has a people faced a major epidemic, known it’s cause, and with a slight change in behavior been able to eliminate it in a short period of time.
Why, then, don’t we? To do so would require the bringing of behavior into compliance with the standards of God, and that is “unacceptable.” So the solution is to blame others and insist that enough money be invested in research to find a cure. It is interesting to note the media’s lack of any reference to morality in the discussion of AIDS.
When studying the Bible one gets the impression that God sees things differently.
1. Fairness. Not only can the casual observer see that God has created people unequally, He says as much in the Bible. For example, at the burning bush God says to Moses, “Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the Lord?” (Exodus 4:11)
Again, God says, “When ye be come into the land of Canaan, which I give to you for a possession, and I put the plague of leprosy in a house of the land of your possession” (Leviticus 14:34). And again the Psalmist declares, “For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge: He putteth down one, and setteth up another” (Psalm 75:6—7).
Using man’s standard of fairness, God is not fair. Not only are people on earth unequal, so also in heaven. Angels aren’t equal. Even Jesus, when on earth, was not equal in authority with the Father (cf. John 5:30, I Corinthians 11:3).
2. Negative Consequences. Throughout the Bible God places the emphasis on the act rather than the consequences of the act. This is why God seems inconsistent when He has a man stoned who picks up sticks on the Sabbath and says nothing when Moses kills an Egyptian.
MORALITY BASED ON WHAT IS REASONABLE
This difference between how God views law vis-a-vis how relativism views it will be further explored in the next issue. But note that this is why many view the commands of God as unreasonable.
Those who repudiate absolutes do so by suggesting that the God of the Bible is “barbaric.” “A God who kills the two sons of Aaron because they made a mistake in the sacrificial system (Leviticus 10:1—2) or executed a man for picking up firewood on Saturday (Numbers 15:32—36) is not the kind of God I want to follow.” If an individual doesn’t clearly understand this difference between how God and man view law, he can be easily intimidated and put on the defensive by the relativist.
Man’s way of viewing law will always appear more reasonable than God’s by virtue of the fact that it is man’s view. It is in the nature of the case that we are enamored with ideas that originate with us to a greater degree than those that originate with others. The unregenerate mind will almost always conclude that the reasoning of man is superior to that of God.
Paul said, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (I Corinthians 2:14).
Because of this, the correcting of the convoluted thinking present in our nation today must be done through the preaching of the Gospel rather than the U.S. Congress. We cannot legislate change that will eliminate the ills of relativism.
Rejoicing in Christ,