By David Goree
My cousin Brian is a judge on the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals, which is one step below the Oklahoma Supreme Court. (Please pardon the bragging in my blogging.)
Last week, Brian gave me a tour of the appellate courtroom and offices and explained the process by which the judges research, debate and decide appeals. The process is thorough and thoughtful and left me feeling confident in the legal system. Moreover, I could begin to see what draws people to Law. It’s an amazing attribute of our species that we have the capacity to live together in relative harmony by tacit agreement to be governed by a set of written precepts.
The downside of the Law, of course, is the danger of getting bogged down in the “letter of the law.” Though we complain about red tape, the fine print, and the detailed policies and procedures of modern life, there is something in us that likes following the letter of the law and thus fulfilling our duties. It feels good to complete our requirements, check off our boxes, and say “I’m done with that!”
I do admire Psalm 119 as a meditation on the power of God’s Law and as an evocative reflection on the role of the Law for the people of the Old Testament. For people of the New Testament, however, the psalm is anchored much too deeply in legalism. The vocabulary of precepts, laws, testimonies, statutes, commandments, and ordinances paints a picture of compliance–to my mind, anyway.
Jesus, on the other hand, strikes an amazing balance between Law and Love when he answers the question “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” in Matthew 22. He says,
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”
His words are at once simple and profound. He captures the intent of God’s laws in two commandments which we people of the New Testament would be wise to hide in our hearts.