Wednesday, April 25, 2018

How Can The Law Set You Free?

"There is no freedom without the Law."

The Commandments in Paleo Hebrew
This is a quote from the 1956 movie The Ten Commandments (clip, 30 seconds in) [1]  when Moses comes down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments written on two tablets of stone, and then confronts Korah the troublemaker. That quote isn't actually in the Biblical text, though James 1:25 and 2:12 refer to the Ten Commandments as the Law of Liberty, many translations read Law of Freedom.

But what does it mean, that there is no freedom without the law? It seems contradictory,  freedom implies choice, law implies restricting choice. Well, which is it? Is it true? How does the law give freedom?

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Between The Ears BLOG INDEX, with titles and summaries.

Many, including me, see the quote as true. On this point, I agree with Pope Francis who said,
The Ten Commandments are not a limitation, but a pathway to freedom, Pope Francis said in a video message broadcast to thousands gathered in Milan’s Cathedral Square earlier this week. - Catholic Herald [2]
John Rankin, Theological Educational Institute writes,
The “commandments” are literally “words” of freedom. How often do we grasp that reality? For the Israelites, they were gaining freedom from 400 years of slavery. And the ten “words” were instructions that followed and designed to protect their freedom.
The Ten Commandments lead to freedom for creativity, healthy relationships and long life. This was true in theocratic Israel (a community of choice), and is true today in a pluralistic society such as the United States. To willfully break them is to lie to the self, and begin a process of enslavement. - The Nature of the Ten Commandments [3]
Or as C.S Lewis simply said "Obedience is the road to Freedom." - AZ Quotes [4]


Free From Egypt After
Crossing the Red Sea

One answer commonly found is that the liberty ie freedom means deliverance from the bondage of sin. That certainly makes sense. The first thing God says to ancient Israel at Mount Sinai is "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." The thing is that God delivered Israel from slavery before giving them the Ten Commandments. So you can't argue that The Law sets you free. God already set Israel free. Michelle Fincher of Calvary Presbyterian gets the order correct and suggests that The Law keeps you free. I will argue below it's more than that, that The Law really does set you free.

"The order of these events is critical. First God freed the people (grace), then came the commandments (law). The law was never given to tell people how to “measure up” so God would accept them or love them.
The law was (and is) given to tell us how to remain free." The Ten Commandments: Signposts to Freedom [5]
In other words, without law, specifically the Ten Commandments, we as humans would be slaves to sin. Ancient Israel wanted at times to go back to Egypt. They were set free, then wanted to return to sin.


Some teach that the freedom that Christ brought was freedom from the consequences of the Law. Explaining the phrase "under the law", John W. Ritenbaugh wrote, "it means to be under the law's penalty because we have sinned. Jesus died so that we can be freed from that penalty." - Law of Liberty [6].  In this life we are not always spared the penalty of our sins; to me, being free from "that penalty" means freedom from the penalty of eternal death, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" - Rom 6:23. My assertion is that the Law sets us free in this lifetime as well. Some teach that the freedom that Christ brought was freedom FROM The Law, that we do not have to keep the Ten Commandments - God's Only Law Is Love [7]. It sounds tempting, but in fact is twisting the words of the Apostle Paul. Most everyone agrees humans need laws, but I think what we need is not just any set of man made laws (see how many laws we have, it's not working), but we need the Ten Commandments.

Some want to define terms to explain how law makes one free. I will define my own version of terms later, but consider this quote.
 If law is defined as restraint on hu­man action and liberty as the absence of restraint, the concepts are inimical and conciliation impos­sible.
In the words of Bastiat [8] (a French economits of the 19th century), liberty is "the freedom of every person to make full use of his faculties, so long as he does not harm other persons while doing so… [and] the re­stricting of the law only to its ra­tional sphere of organizing the right of the individual to lawful self-defense….”
Individual freedom is the lack of formal or informal external re­straints imposed by one man or group of men upon another, save for the collective coercion aimed at preventing individuals from acting forcibly or fraudulently against their neighbors. It is the absence of human impediment to the vol­untary action of fellow human be­ings. The permissible limitation on free choice is the recognition of an equal ambit of choice to all other men.
Freedom not only presupposes a system of law but also could not survive in the absence of law. - Individual Liberty And The Rule Of Law [9]
I found that hard to follow, but what it says to me is that you're free to do what you want (liberty) as long as you don't hurt anyone or steal their stuff. I have to think that The Law is more than that.  Bastiat's law sounds self centered to me, not recognizing kindness, or acts of charity towards others. The Ten Commandments are the expression of love itself, given by and backed by God Himself.
Matt 22:36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law? 37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Tree Of Life

My theory is that The Law sets you free from the impossible task of deciding right from wrong, good from evil. Nearly everyone agrees we need laws to keep people from "acting forcibly or fraudulently", but people do not agree on what laws. It all started with Eve in the Garden of Eden. She ate from the wrong tree. The trees were called the Tree of Life, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil - note it was not called the Tree of Death, it has this long, arguably clumsy name. And Adam and Eve already knew right from wrong, they knew they weren't supposed to eat from it. So the real meaning was deeper than that. Many teach that by eating of Tree of the Long Name, Adam and Eve took it upon themselves to DECIDE good from evil. "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil" - Gen 3:22. I assert that is an impossible task for an individual, but also impossible for all mankind. Again, look at all the laws man has made to address the need for people to live in liberty, you might say to maximize liberty for all, and it hasn't worked yet - men do like to write laws. In nations that base their law on the Ten Commandments, man's laws work better at providing liberty for all, but look at the fruits.
Look at human history, not just Western Civilization. True, Europe was an oppressive place during the Middle Ages, when the Church reigned supreme. And yes, liberty advanced during the Enlightenment, when deists and agnostics dared to reveal their beliefs. But this is too narrow a focus. How did Christian Europe compare with the rest of the world? Compare it with caste system India or Imperial China. The Moslem world was more advanced in learning, but how free was it? Include women in this metric. Compare chivalry and courtly love with the harems of the East. China had its balanced yin and yang – along with foot-binding. These civilizations would consider Pat Robertson to be a dangerously radical feminist. Law Of Liberty [10]
I offer two analogies to the impossible task of deciding good and evil. The first is music. There are an infinite number of frequencies (notes) in an octave. Choosing notes from an infinite "frequency space" is unlikely to produce anything melodic. But constrain your frequencies to the notes of a scale (do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do) - now you can create a melody, yet still have infinite choice. The notes of the scale follow a natural, mathematical law, and all cultures have "discovered" the scale. In other words, the Law is like the musical scale, eliminating worthless choices.

Stay On The Path

My second analogy is: the law is like a path. If I want to go somewhere, I can look at a map, find the direction of the compass and start walking in that heading. However, it would be easier to follow the roads that already exist. It may not be as short a route as flight, but faster. This analogy I didn't make up, the Bible even refers to itself as a path "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path"  - Psalm 119:105. God has solved the problem of what is good and evil, of what laws we need to live together. He has given us a map of the paths. We are set free from the curse of the law, which in my theory is trying to "know good and evil".

The Law keeps one free from slavery to sin.
The Law sets one free from the death penalty.
The Law sets one free from deciding good from evil.



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