When we speak of God’s law, there is a danger that we might think of it as we think of any secular law. We usually think of secular law merely as a sort of impersonal code written by nameless legislators or bureaucrats. We have not met them; we do not know them or necessarily love or trust them. In effect, they are an abstraction in our mind called “the government,” or “the man,” or just “they,” as in, “They don’t want you to park here” or “They’ll arrest you for that.”
But God’s Law is personal. When it comes to God’s Law we are dealing with something quite different, something very personal (if we have faith). For God’s law is not given by someone we do not know, love, or trust. If we have faith, God is someone we do in fact know, someone we love and trust. Further, we believe that He loves us and wants what is best for us.
God’s law is not the equivalent of a no-parking sign hung by some nameless, faceless government. Rather, it is a personal exhortation, an instruction and command given by someone we know and who knows and loves us.
Consider an example. Suppose you pull in front of my church to park and you see a no-parking sign. Now suppose further that you decide to ignore it. All right, you have broken a law, not a big one, but a law nonetheless. You’ve chosen to ignore a sign put there by “the government.” But consider another scenario: I, your beloved blogger and the pastor of the Church you are attending or visiting, is standing out there by the curb and I say to you, “Please don’t park here.” Now the situation is very different. I, someone you know and love, 🙂 , am personally requesting that you leave the space open for some reason.
An old rabbinic saying makes this same point:
You want to know why so many of God’s laws end by saying “I am the Lord”? I will tell you! When God says, “I am the Lord,” he is saying, “Now look, I am the one who fished you out of the mud, so come over here and listen to me.”
When you experience the law in this personal way, you are far more likely to follow it, because someone you know and trust is asking and directing you. But what if, despite this, you still choose to ignore the instruction not to park there. Well then, the situation is quite different, because in this case, the law is personal. The refusal to follow it now becomes personal and it is a far more serious situation.
Here are two examples of the “I am the Lord” sayings in Scripture:
“You shall not defraud or rob your neighbor.
You shall not withhold overnight the wages of your day laborer.
You shall not curse the deaf,
or put a stumbling block in front of the blind,
but you shall fear your God.
I am the LORD.
“You shall not act dishonestly in rendering judgment.
Show neither partiality to the weak nor deference to the mighty,
but judge your fellow men justly.
You shall not go about spreading slander among your kin;
nor shall you stand by idly when your neighbor’s life is at stake.
I am the LORD (Lev 19:11-14).
Note how the litanies of the law each end with, “I am the Lord.” (These are but two of many litanies.) On the one hand it gives solemnity to the pronouncement. But on another level, God is saying, “This is Me talking. It is I who speak to you, I who created you, led you out of slavery, parted the Red Sea for you, dispatched your enemies, fed you in the desert, and gave you drink from the rock. It I, I who love you, I who care for you, I who have given you everything you have, I who want what is best for you, I who have earned your trust. It is I, your Father, speaking to you and giving you this command.”
God’s law is personal. Do we see and experience it this way? This will happen only if we come to know the Lord personally. Otherwise, the danger is that we see the Law of God as merely an impersonal code, an abstract set of rules to follow. They might as well have been issued by the deity, the godhead, or even just the religious leaders of the day.
Hence a gift to pray for in terms of keeping God’s Law, is a closer walk with the Lord and an experience of His love for us. Such an experience is a great help in loving the Law of the Lord. For when we love the Lord, we love His law, seeing it not as an imposition, but as a personal code of love that is meant to protect us. And when we offend against it, either willfully or through weakness, we are able to repent with a more perfect contrition, for we understand that we have offended someone we love and who is deserving of all our love.
Abba – St. Paul indicates that one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is that we are able to experience God as Abba. Abba is the Hebrew and Aramaic family word for father. It is translated by some as “Papa,” or “Dad.” But regardless of how it is translated, it indicates a deep love and tender affection for the Father. He is not merely “the Father” in some abstract or merely titular sense. He is someone I experience as my own dear Father, as someone who loves me. It is a personal and family relationship that the Holy Spirit wants to grant us.
This personal relationship brings God’s law alive, makes it personal. And so God says, as He reminds of of His Law, “I am the Lord. This is me talking. It is I, the one who loves you.”
I might add that we also need to experience this with regard to the Church. Many see the Church in an impersonal way, as an institution. But the real gift is to see the Church as Christ’s beloved bride and our Mother. In this sense, we love the Church and grow daily in affection for her, not seeing her “rules” as impersonal, but rather as the guidance and direction of a loving mother.
In this video, Fr. Francis Martin beautifully describes the gift of loving the Father with deep affection: