God’s law library
Man makes his rules complex, but God keeps His simple
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One of the advantages of taking a few weeks of medical respite from your regular work schedule is that you get to do your taxes early. Really!
Recovery from a fractured leg has kept me hobbling around at home, nudging me to look around for tasks I’d otherwise put off and letting me for the first time in memory file my tax returns before the end of January. It must have caught the IRS off guard, because federal and state offices promptly accepted my returns, confirmed my figures, and issued appropriate refunds. It’s one thing in life I don’t have to worry about again until early 2022.
The IRS may have simplified things a bit for us this year, but it’s still an ugly, tedious process. And it always reminds me how relatively simple God’s approach to rule-making has always been.
God wants us to apply our hearts not to rote obedience but to the task of wisdom.
God’s rules tend to be few, simple, noncontradictory, and sufficient to stand the test of time without constant updating.
Man’s laws—even when well intended—tend to be complex, lengthy, repetitive, full of contradictions, and constantly in need of revision and amendment.
This isn’t just another swipe at the feds. The contrast between God’s approach and man’s approach to writing rules is just as evident when you look at the bylaws of your church, your PTA, or your golf club. We’re just not very good at anticipating all the needs and eventualities that our weak human natures give rise to. Once we think we have everything nailed down, someone’s evil inventiveness finds another loophole—and we must come up with another list of amendments.
We have limited power and look to the law as a means of controlling other people’s behavior. God, meanwhile, uses His law not so much to control us (which He does anyway) as He does to teach us His wisdom.
That’s why He started, early in the Bible, by expressing His desires for our behavior in 10 brief, broad strokes. (You might even suggest that He started even earlier, in Genesis 1 and 2, in one broad stroke!) Any one of these terse statements had a thousand applications, but part of His wisdom was not to spell all that out with subtopics, footnotes, or subsections. Instead, He left it simple—and memorable.
That’s one of the great benefits of brevity: People can remember what you say. A great shame of our day, even in evangelical circles, is that so few have taken time to memorize the Ten Commandments—an altogether possible and even easy task. That’s no accident—God made it easy because “he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14).
God starts with profound simplicity rather than with multivolume legal codes because He wants us to apply our hearts not to rote obedience but to the task of wisdom. Yes, He wants compliance. But He could have that any time He desires it. What He wants even more is for our remade hearts to think their way through, and then to desire fervently, the way of life He designed for us. No legal library in the world has shelves long enough for all the books it would take to spell out such a code.
So He gives us instead a few brief and clear starting points. If we incline our hearts in His direction, those basic points blossom into a thousand new challenges we never thought of before.
Prudent parents want the same thing as they work to bring their children to wisdom and maturity. They don’t want to burden their children with code books to carry around for the rest of their lives. Instead, they seek to help them adopt a few basic principles from which wise choices flow as challenges or temptations arise.
Those who fashion civil law should consider such wisdom as an appropriate goal too. Maybe the IRS isn’t the place to begin. But wherever they start, Congress and the Washington bureaucracy had better come to understand—and soon—that however much they think they’re refining and improving the process, stacks and stacks of regulations actually breed contempt for the law. It’s tough to obey what you have no chance of comprehending.