Above the Law?

FreedomIf someone were to ask you if you thought you were above the law, it would likely be asked in a highly contemptuous tone—as if being above the law is the most abhorrent thing one could do.  Yet there is a dichotomy between the societal pressure to “go along to get along” and the individual yearning to live a life of self-determination.  Even among those who wholeheartedly support The Law, there is a fascination with not being bound by the law.  Think about all the movies made about people with no legal recourse who take the law into their own hands, or who break the law to achieve some noble purpose.

At its most basic level, a law is nothing more than a method of coercing people to behave in a certain way through threat of force.  Societies usually institute laws in an attempt to solve a problem.  If a certain action is deemed detrimental to the common good, we make a law, and give governmental agencies the justification to enforce that law in an attempt to dissuade people from doing that thing.  And the law might work for a little while if it is relatively equitable and is enforced with impartiality.

But, two problems arise.  The first problem is that eventually, the law will prove to be detrimental to a segment of the population.  Then the law must expand to cover such contingencies.  This is why legal codes grow at an exponential rate.  The US legal code, for instance, has so many caveats and technical aspects that it is indecipherable by the average person.  Hence, the reason for our gargantuan legal industry that makes social and business interactions infinitely more complicated than they need to be.  The point is, that even when laws are designed for good purposes, they fall short of solving society’s fundamental problems.

The second problem is that laws become an entrenched part of culture.  Let’s presume that a given law originally had popular support.  The people that instituted it agreed that they all wanted to abide by it.  (Let’s set aside for the moment, that penalties are imposed by the law because a segment of the population does not want to abide by that law.)  For a while, the problem that that particular law addresses lies dormant.  So the next generation grows up with that particular law being a part of “the way things are.”  It’s an intrinsic part of their world.  Most people in this situation typically follow the law—but usually out of a sense of obligation or coercion.  And when something is done out of obligation or coercion, there is no virtue in those actions.  By following the law for the law’s sake, we become people who are law-abiding, but lacking in virtue.Only Love is the Law Quote

In first half of his letter to Roman believers, the apostle Paul essentially wrote a treatise on the relationship between law and morality.  He describes the law as a failed attempt to achieve what can only be achieved through the divine life imparted by Christ.  I would contend that those who seek after God need to be above the law.  We have a higher calling, a divine mandate.  “Because it’s the law” is the sociological (pathological?) equivalent of “because I said so.”  “Because it’s the law” is not a reason.  We should, as free people, do the right thing for the right reason, not simply shuffle mechanically through life, slavishly conforming to the law for the law’s sake.  Our mandate is to develop virtue.  This should be our aim.  This should be the way we endeavor to live—as people who are above the law, living virtuous lives.

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