Let’s be clear: the law must be applied, and it applies to every situation in which a person could possibly find himself. But what IS the law fundamentally? The law is fundamentally an expression of God’s own character. And God is love (among the other attributes). Hence the law is love, and reflects that attribute of God, even as it also reflects the holiness and righteousness of God. Here we must be very careful not to confuse law and gospel, as some are in the habit of doing. The law is our love for God and our love for one another.
I have been reflecting this week on God’s law. How is it that the Psalmist can say, “Oh, how I love your law; it is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97)? We live in an age where “rules are meant to be broken.” This results in two main attitudes towards rules: make them or break them. We equate God’s law with rules, and the slide from a general, fuzzy idea about rules to man-made rules is not a difficult one for many people. This is easily seen in the way people are often more offended when man-made rules are broken than they are when God’s law is broken. Or, they think that God’s law is being broken when the man-made rules are broken. There is a direct correspondence in their minds between man-made rules and God’s law. There is something very, very wrong here.
When Jesus summarizes the law with the two great commandments, “Love the Lord your God” and “Love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus is saying that the essence of the law is love, particularly our love for God and our love for neighbor. The Reformed world has (rightly, in my opinion,) divided the Ten Commandments between the first four, which describe our duty to love God, and the last six, which describe our duty to love one another.
The issue I am getting at is most visible when we formulate two sentences back to back: 1. We like the idea of love; 2. We don’t like the idea of “rules” or “law.” The Old Testament does not allow us this divorce, quite frankly, and Psalm 119 in particular. The problem may be that we have wrong ideas about the law. As is usual with such things, the problem is in our theology, not in God’s law.
First problem: thinking that the law is firstly about its application, and not primarily about its essence.