August 17, 2004

Necessary Laws?

Category: Theology :: Permalink

I recently read a quotation from Plato somewhere in which he said that for a righteous man laws are unnecessary. If, then, we had a society in which everyone was good, we wouldn’t need any legislation. Each would simply do the right and good thing naturally.

I’ve heard Christians express the same view. In heaven, they would say, we won’t need laws. No commandments will be necessary. We will all be good and just naturally do what is good. We won’t need rules. Rules, in their view, become necessary because of sin.

I’m not convinced. Maybe it’s just that I’ve been reading Charles Williams recently (see my old entry from last October), but as I was driving around Grande Prairie I started thinking about what Plato said.

Consider traffic laws. Williams would see them as instruction in charity: I extend charity to you when I stop at this corner and wait for you to go first.

But would I know what to do at a four-way stop if it were not for rules? It seems to me that no amount of natural goodness would instruct you as to what you ought to do, even if you were approaching a corner on the new earth and there were no sin.

When you come to a corner, who should stop? You or the guy on the cross street? How do you know? Should you simply let him go, putting him ahead of yourself? Or should he let you, putting you ahead of himself? But if you both want to put each other first, and if you both took that to mean stopping to let the other go, you’d both end up stopped. And that, of course, would slow down all the traffic around you.

So what do we do? We put up a stop sign and we make rules. I stop because I have the sign, and no matter how much you want to put me ahead of yourself, you keep going because I have the stop sign and you don’t. And when we all come to a four-way stop, we follow the rules. If it’s your turn, you don’t defer to someone else and motion for him to go; you go. And when you do that, you enable everyone else to make it through that intersection smoothly and that is charity.

But in order for good people to show that kind of charity, we need rules. Rules aren’t necessary only because of sin. They won’t disappear in the new heavens and new earth. And therefore we shouldn’t view the existence of rules as a burden (though many rules are burdensome); they’re necessary aids to help us express love. Plato didn’t see that, but I suspect Charles Williams would have.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:29 pm | Discuss (0)

Leave a Reply