Authority, Justice and Law

Solonby Glenn Fairman  9/15/14
We tread on a potential minefield whenever we attempt to divine the Hand of God in our peculiar conceptions of law and human governance. In particular, we must use wisdom and reason in the prudent application of Paul’s words in Romans: a teaching that tells us “there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. “ If the broadest interpretation of this doctrine is held to be absolute: extending beyond our private dealings and into the arena of justifying empires themselves, then every righteous revolt or revolution—yea, every election where a “leader” is thrown out for another, is in some way insubordinate to this curious conception of a “heavenly mandate.”

In truth, Paul, in the 13th chapter of his letter, is speaking in the minimalist sense — exhorting the church to be paragons of virtue so that the unbeliever will see Christ’s virtuous balm upon men’s souls and thereafter might come to believe.  They are effectively adjured to remain good men even when living in a bad world by submitting to the authority of civil law — although there are limits to that obedience depending on the character of the legislation. What he is certainly not telling them is this: that the unjust edicts of a regime flow from the Throne of God Almighty. This would make God not only a liar, but a capricious liar who is the de facto power behind the wicked hand of injustice. That God himself is ultimately the author of evil must be admitted if this interpretation of Paul is to be hazarded correct.

All good men crave justice, and there can be no justice without the canopy of enlightened law to cover us: laws whose sole ends are justice and that possibility of contributing to the Good Life. Such law is no respecter of persons, and even a Hebrew King had to submit to the Greater Law. This is one of the greatest concepts the West has gleaned from Judaism: that legitimate rule cannot use illegitimate means, lest it abrogate its authority and descend into the tyrannical. The tyrant is inherently a law unto himself, and by using our faculties of right moseshestonreason, we discern that his arbitrary acts invalidate the tacit compact between ruler and ruled. The Old Testament is replete with those object lessons in which those who ruled in virtue and those who ruled by caprice ultimately reaped what they had sown. Indeed, the Bible is God’s proverbial finger etching His lessons upon the clay tablet of Israel – and therein to the world. Thus, what befalls this corporate sliver of humanity intersects with our age at an immeasurable number of points.  Israel is our tragedy, our triumph, our sorrow, and our redemption.

Indeed, any ruler or regime is answerable to God, and such prerogatives are not limitless. If Paul is to be understood in this extreme manner, then Hitler (always the reductio ad hitlerum) should have been submitted to by virtue of the unassailable authority of Yahweh, or perhaps through what is tantamount to Hegel’s rendition of a deified History.   This stark determinism of “The Real is the Rational” can be used to justify any tyranny or state of affairs that could hardly be categorized as righteous or “of God.” Moreover, if one is following the Sovereign, who is the manifestation of God in the World, then obedience excuses the commission of any number of horrendous crimes that can be absolved with the answer: “I was only following orders.”  Such an interpretation not only militates against the wisdom in the Book of Proverbs, it works against Moses and the Israelites who unrighteously toiled under bitter bondage in the “fleshpots of Egypt.”

As far as the absolute authority, even unto the penalty of death, by Hebrew parents over their children (explicated in Deuteronomy 18),  this verse has been torn from its cultural context where the adoration and respect due to parents were considered filial honor and therefore paramount. However, there was an expectation of reciprocation that went hand in hand with this respect. In the ancient world, the Roman law of the 12 Tables gave the paterfamilias nearly unqualified power over the life and death of his sons.  Now, there is a difference between retaining the authority and carrying out the sentence. The execution of sons in Republican Rome and at the foot of Sinai most likely rarely, if ever, occurred — considering the bond of love that existed and was reinforced by the tribe’s culture. It was enough that the underlying edict be there—which itself was primordially reinforced by the unwritten intuition of nature and later codified by “Honor thy Father and thy Mother.”[pullquote]The wafer-thin veil of civility we see around us is merely the penumbra of the Christian Weltanschauung that still abides in the tattered hulk of our civilization’s positive law.[/pullquote]

The family’s existence as the primary natural institution of the god of nature or nature’s god is governed by the promptings of right reason.  The codification of the governance of this relationship was merely the promulgation via positive law to the annals of History– for even the heathen understood this natural association intrinsically. What is more interesting, is that today in Islam we see this absolutism not only existing as an abstract teaching moment, but being instituted in Honor killings — with the father’s own hand being the instrument of wrath for female disobedience.

While we are at it, I was thinking of the “eye for an eye” proposition that seems to draw so much consternation from enlightened Moderns who vigorously pat themselves on the back for their effete sensibilities.  In truth, the principle is intended as one of proportionality and not as one that codifies vengeance.  It is meant to stop a person from seeking more than what is truly just.  It meant that a judge could not kill the entire family of a deliberate manslayer and call it justice. The punishment had to proportionately fit the crime. A theft could not, in theory, require the life of a man or the forfeiture of his entire house.  Rather than being tagged as a holdover relic of barbarism, this principle exists as the apex of justice in a world otherwise governed by the assertion of Thrasymachus (Justice lies in the interest of the Stronger) or the Athenians in Thucydides’ Melian dialogue (The Strong do what they can, while the Weak suffer what they must). If the truth be told, we still inhabit such a world. The wafer-thin veil of civility we see around us is merely the penumbra of the Christian Weltanschauung that still abides in the tattered hulk of our civilization’s positive law.

No justice can be considered wise unless it liberally grants the spirit of mercy to those who deserve mercy and imposes measured judgment to the outlaw. The action of misapplying these remedies to the inappropriate parties has the profound effect of confusion and the multiplication of injustice within the City.  As Montesquieu noted: “There is no greater tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of the law and in the name of justice.”  In our application of law we should consider the Spirit of the Laws which can then give us guidance and inspiration to illuminate our task at hand. But first, we must be cognizant of the authority from which to seek this Spirit: It is always, without reservation, to be found in the pristine reservoirs of Heaven.

Glenn Fairman writes from Highland, Ca.
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15 Responses to Authority, Justice and Law

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    One must always remember that Paul’s epistles were always written for the specific situations each Christian community was facing. His admonitions on obeying legal authority was for that city and at that time. There were emperors whose rule was reasonably just, and a call for obedience was quite proper at such a time, especially given where rebellion was likely to lead. (This is especially true after the revolt that led to the fall of Jerusalem to Titus, though I don’t know if Paul was still writing by then. There would be a certain irony if this epistle was written during the time of Nero.)

  2. I couldn’t agree more, Glenn. I feel the church has been way too compliant with the current regime and the misapplication of Romans 13 is at the heart of it. It is so much easier to grab a verse and stubbornly adhere to it than it is to “rightly divide the word of truth.” That takes much study and much attention to context. It’s time Obama felt the whole weight of the Christian church pushing back against his tyranny. Good piece.

  3. Glenn (the lesser) says:

    John Locke’s social contract was based on natural law that all are entitled to life, liberty and property. Governance was necessary to ensure fairness for all and the tension between government and the individual is where life is played out. There is no doubt our government has steadily chipped away at our freedoms – speech, assembly, association, property (taxes) – just to name a few, with nothing in sight to check the erosion of those and other freedoms.

    The foundation of our civilization was the family. The family took care of children and elderly and minimal government assistance was needed. That has changed with the tearing apart of the family so that the government is now filling the role of caretaker. The cost of this new role for the government is our freedom.

    Lincoln’s admonition that at some point it may become necessary to “throw off the yoke of tyranny” is only possible when enough citizens recognize the tyranny for what it is, but the insidious “progress” our culture has endured means too many of our fellow citizens mistake the chains of bondage for the loving embrace of mommy and daddy government.

    I don’t have an answer. Hopefully someone smarter than me figures it out … soon.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      The foundation of our civilization was the family. The family took care of children and elderly and minimal government assistance was needed. That has changed with the tearing apart of the family so that the government is now filling the role of caretaker. The cost of this new role for the government is our freedom.

      That’s exactly right. However this works out, welcome to the Brave New World.

      And there you go citing Lincoln in regards to liberty. Geez, Glenn. Don’t you know that he was a tyrant? That’s what the libertarians insist. And how can a movement supposedly devoted to liberty be a force for anything positive if they are so wrong about something this big? (Answer: They can’t be.)

      We have veered so far into the Communist mindset that there is no turning back. We could, of course, go sideways into something else. But the premise that we are operating under is that we are to be “nice” instead of free. Oh…and we are to be “nice” inside an eco-utopia of “diversity” and multiculturalism. And that means the tyranny of the state over any real semblance of individual liberty.

      Some of this was inevitable as we moved from an agrarian society to one in which people are packed into ordered and artificial cities. And although this sounds like “high civlization,” I like this quote I found from an article that Glenn (the non-lesser) had suggested:

      What a vast difference there is between the barbarism that precedes culture and the barbarism that follows it.
—Christian Friedrich Hebbel

      Without the humanizing and reality-anchoring effect of a little cow dung on the bottom of our shoes, we will turn into monsters. What is the ultimate lesson of WWI, for example? Other than the bad effect of German militarism it is that civilization is not necessarily a civilizing influence. Lots of ordered, gridded, and paved streets and high-rise buildings with buried sewers do not necessarily make for an ordered mind and ethics.

      • Glenn (the lesser) says:

        The name change to”Glenn the lesser” was intended to provide a little humor in distinguishing between Mr. Fairman and myself … and as the old joke goes – yes, very little. What started out as too cutesy is now too annoying. I apologize and will correct. Glenn the lesser is signing off and will be replaced with my new nom de blog – GHG (my initials).

  4. Old man says:

    I once read a saying by a person, Judy Soukup. It said: “The two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity.”

    That really explains the past, present and future.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      A famous Einstein quote goes: “There are only two things that are infinite, the universe and human stupidity. And I’m not sure about the universe.”

      • Glenn Fairman says:

        say the secret word and the duck will come down and give ya fifty dollars…….

        • Glenn Fairman says:

          Maybe the universe is like “Star Trek TNG’s holodeck, where you can ride a horse for 100 miles in one direction in a room the space the size of a 7-11 market. If it is just an overlay matrix masking some ineffable reality powered by Mind rather than material — and that reality inhabits a dozen dimensions we cannot know in our carnality, then maybe it is turtles all the way down.

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