Laws are just guides
HINTS AND TRACES - Fr. Roy Cimagala (The Freeman) - August 13, 2018 - 12:00am

Laws, of course, are very important. Imagine a society without laws. Chaos can only be expected. But laws should be understood simply as guides and not as the ultimate end itself.

And especially in the case of human laws, we can find many exceptions to them because of their inability to capture all the possible situations that man can get into. That’s the reason why many of them become obsolete, or are even outrightly rescinded, or at least updated, modified, fine-tuned, etc.

Even the sacred laws can suffer changes as situations demand. Take the example of the Sabbath law of the Jews as dramatized in Matthew 12,1-8. Some Pharisees faulted Christ’s disciples for picking and eating grain on a Sabbath. But Christ immediately corrected them.

He explained that exceptions can be made. “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry,” he said, “when he and his companions were hungry, how he went into the house of God and ate the bread of offering, which neither he nor his companions but only the priests could lawfully eat?”

Still more: “Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests serving in the temple violate the Sabbath and are innocent?”

Then he explained why such exceptions can be made. “I say to you, something greater than the temple is here. If you knew what this meant, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned these innocent men. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

It is quite clear that laws are made to serve our ultimate end, and that can only be that we be led to God, our original source and ultimate end. Our laws should be such that they should not negate nor even undermine the achievement of this fundamental purpose of the laws. Even our traffic laws, so insignificant if impacted with our ultimate end, should respect this fundamental purpose.

But what do we have? We sometimes absolutize our laws as if they are the ultimate purpose in our life. They can be so rigidly and indiscriminatingly applied to all cases when there can be exceptions or even exemptions that can be made. We fall into some kind of legalism.

And nowadays, there are even laws that undermine the ultimate purpose of our life, that is, our proper relation with God. Christ himself complained about this. “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” (Mk 7,8) We are now making ourselves as the ultimate lawgiver, as if we are the creator of the universe.

Even worse, we can directly contradict God’s law, as illustrated in Psalm 94,20: “They do injustice under cover of law.” We just do not tolerate injustice and outright sins, but we now sanction them. That is why we now have such laws that legalize abortion, euthanasia, same-sex unions, etc.

We need to recover our proper bearing with respect to our understanding and attitude toward our laws. I am afraid this will need a tremendous effort, because the current mainstream attitude is that we ourselves are the ultimate lawgivers. We just depend on our consensus.

Of course, some will say that there should be separation of Church and state, and respect for religious freedom and freedom of conscience as bases for such attitude. But they have twisted these concepts to accommodate their bias of removing God and his laws from our life.

With God removed, we are left with our own devices that unavoidably can lead us sooner or later to some forms of injustice, since we cannot avoid our differences and conflicts. The strong will always take advantage of the weak, the rich of the poor, etc.

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