Yesterday evening I was again reading my little man his devotions, and the theme of the evening was fruit. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…” We live in a tropical place and there are always a lot of mangoes and bananas and pineapples and the like, so this was something that his little mind clearly understood. But a human being growing fruit? Could that be true? And his eyes grew wide.
As always, seeing things through my toddler’s eyes lends a certain perspective and a new richness that the tired old verses lost for me a long time ago. What struck me this time was the sentence that followed:
“Against such things there is no law.”
There’s a lot about the idea of “law” in the Bible. Much of it is in fact a law book – providing the rules and decrees that would govern a nation. The first laws in the world, at least the written ones, are probably found in the Ten Commandments. This makes sense, humanity likes patterns and consistency and the natural response to the organization of human society – even by a deity – is to spell things out to make them neat and clean and orderly. To this end law is usually used to codify mores or cultural patterns which try to push people in the direction of “good” or “healthy” activities and away from activities that are seen as self-destructive or disruptive of society as a whole. Dictionary.com defines laws as “the principles and regulations established in a community by some authority and applicable to its people, whether in the form of legislation or of custom and policies recognized and enforced by judicial decision.” But law is not always a good thing. Those of us who have lived in dictatorships know that often times law is used as a mechanism of social control, to let the citizens of an unfree republic understand what is expected of them by their overlords and what the consequences will be if they do not obey. Even those of us in free countries have become used to watching out for the myriad laws that we might be breaking inadvertently; did you know that in my home state of Arizona there is a law prohibiting donkeys from sleeping in bathtubs?
But what about the absence of law? We are taught to fear this – it will result in chaos, right?
The Bible also has a consistent concept of “no law”. “Against such things there is no law;” what could that mean? Ellicott’s Biblical commentary suggest it might mean that there is ‘no condemnation’ so these areas of human life are removed from the ‘sphere of the law’; while Meyer’s indicates that the whole point of the Epistle of Paul to the Galatians was to emphasize the freedom of the Christians from Mosaic law – hence these are not laws, not subject to regulation but in fact character traits. It is not in their enforcement that an individual is saved – because they will not grow under compulsion – but conversely by their mere presence they serve to show the true nature of a person.
The Bible is full of indications of its contempt for enacted legislation, which probably comes from the millennia-long disastrous experiment during which God tried in various ways to get His private nation-state to obey, to no avail. “Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died,” Paul says in Romans.
I’m fast-forwarded here two thousand years to our own history, our constitution – as a wise group of well-read people channeled the Apostle Paul to give us the most profound five words in the history of legal tradition, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Because these traits, which display the true nature of our society, will also not grow under compulsion.