Monday, November 15, 2010

The Beauty of the Law

When Lutherans read through the Psalms and the Old Testament, we find an appreciation for the Law (the commandments of God) than somehow has escaped us.  We remember those hours of catechetical instruction in which we were drilled on the commandments and their meaning, on the three uses of the law (curb, mirror, guide), and of how the primary use of the law is accusatory.  Who would think that the law could be good or beautiful -- as long as it points its withered finger at me I am no fan of its rigid demands.  Or am I?

Robert Farrar Capon has a wonderful line in which he describes the Law of God as a vision of true beauty.  I will admit to stumbling over that line a few times.  But he is right.  The Jews had it write.  It is a vision of true beauty -- the beauty of holiness, of purity, of obedience, of virtue...  These things are good and holy and beautiful.

Remember that line in Amadeus when Mozart wanted to write an opera in German about a man building his marriage bed?  The leaders said no to an opera that spoke of the mundane -- opera was supposed to speak of virtue and that is why the mythological gods of Greece and Rome and the fight between good and evil, were good subjects.  Mozart countered that who would not rather listen to the gossip at the hair dresser than to think about virtue and the stories of the gods.  Sin has turned our hearts from the beauty of the law and its virtue to the scintillating details of immorality.

I would add to Capon that the law is beauty -- a true vision of beauty -- but it is unattainable beauty.  We see its impossible to attain beauty clearly only from the vantage point of faith in Christ and then the work of Christ becomes all that more beautiful.  Apart from Christ the Law is like the fine art in a museum.  We love to go and view its beauty but it is a beauty distant from us, separated from our daily lives like the ropes separate us from the paintings in the museum.  We walk around it and ooh and ahhh but then we go home and turn on the TV where the juicy details and forbidden humor of immorality and vulgarity fit us more than the beauty of the law ever could.  Until Jesus intervenes to change us and by the Spirit we learn not only to appreciate the beauty of the law but to desire its beauty and to be surrounded by its beauty all the time.  It is this fruit of Christ's redeeming work that we seek the things that are above and the law becomes for us not only the pointy finger in accusation or the curb to keep us in line.  It also becomes the good and glorious path that the redeemed of the Lord, whom He has declared to be holy and righteous, desire and follow (within the limits of fallen, human frailty to be sure).

The Law of God is good and wise, says the hymnwriter, and sets His will before our eyes... We don't have to run past the beauty in order to always see the law as accusatory.  In Christ we can also see its beauty.  And in Christ we learn to echo the words of the Psalmist: I delight in Your statutes.... I will run in the way of Your commandments when You enlarge my heart...I find my delight in Your commandments which I love...Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day... I love Your commandments above gold, above fine gold...


ErnestO said...

When we are in union with Christ and obey his commands, we do the will of God and fulfill the law of God. We transcend the teaching of the law, and become doers of the law of Christ. "This is where the righteousness of the disciple exceeds that of the Pharisees," says Bonhoeffer. "It is grounded solely upon the call to fellowship with him who alone fulfills the law."

From Costly Grace by Jon Walker page 102.

George said...

Only the Decalogue is Eternal!

This, I believe, is a very deep insight (although obvious) that Luther had during the antinomian dispute. The point is that whereas the gospel is rendered irrelevant in eternity (because there will be no sin in heaven and no salvaion in hell), the law will always be there, albeit only in the 3rd use...

Anonymous said...

love your typo... which is a trutho... "the Jews had it (sic.) write." Harvey Mozolak

Anonymous said...

The Law is in our hearts naturally,and certainly accuses us.

The Law can only come to be loved as the Gospel reaches us.

Obedience to the Law comes when the affection for sin is replaced with the greater affection of and for our Lord.

Anonymous said...

Indeed the Law is beauty and a vision of true beauty. But before we can regard it as such, we need to understand what it really is. The Old Testament uses seven words which we generally translate as “Law.” The most common is “mishpat,” used 421 times - more often than “torah,” the word most of us know, which is used only 219 times. (A Disclaimer: I am not a Hebrew scholar, though I did study Hebrew for a year many years ago. Today, thanks to the Internet, anyone can garner these facts from Strong’s Concordance,

“Torah” never means the 10 Commandments. The Ten Commandments, or as they are referred to most often in the Hebrew tradition, “The Ten Words”, were a part of what Moses brought down from the mountain – probably a small part. In Exodus 31:15 we learn that Moses brought down “two tablets of the covenant” on both sides of which God Himself had written His covenant with His people.

In Jer. 31:31, where God promises to write the Law in the hearts of His people, the word “Torah” is used. In its widest meaning, this word means the mind and the will of God. Because we believe that this is a prophecy about the Kingdom inaugurated by our Lord, which contains His children in whom the Holy Spirit dwells, together with St. Augustine, we believe that this is what God does for us in Baptism. Therefore, “to delight in the Law (Torah) of the Lord” is to delight in all of His works which include the Gospel of the Kingdom. It is true to say that there is Gospel in the Old Testament. It is also true that “Torah” or what we refer to as “Law” contains the Gospel.

If someone could point me to a book authored by a Christian, which explores the many meanings of what we call “Law” in the Old Testament, I will be very grateful. In my youth I dreaded the Law, and could not understand how anyone could “ponder it day and night” and “delight” in it. Now that I understand more fully that there is a difference between the Law which condemns and the Law as the complete will of God, I am eager to get there.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Pastor Peters said...

Harvey, I just decided it was not a typo... I just realized it was my unknown but intentional correct sentence..

Anonymous said...

or, Pastor Peters, a haloed typo, as it is called in sanctified circles-- a right write. Harvey Mozolak