The Apostle Paul. Sigh. What can I say? Heretic? Gnostic? Apostle?
The guy takes a beating. If nothing else, the fact that his name is awash in confusion and fisticuffs, beloved by tyrants and saints alike is proof that there is much more to his message than can be deciphered in a “five week series on Romans” (thanks, old SGM church! They were big on series’s…so damn boring, I got a lot of daydreaming done).
This is a relatively short post. Here, we will take a deep look at the concept of “Law”. It’s not an easy thing to unwind. The Platonist thinking that anthropomorphizes abstract notions is tenacious to the point of being almost impossible to separate from man’s existential understanding in TOTAL. How many people here would acknowledge that the “laws of nature” are not merely a construct of man’s conceptualizing mind, but are ACTUAL. That is are THE cause of the effect of all actions of nature, even though you have never seen a law of nature, you have only seen nature?
Yeah. Pretty much every hand in the room.
Some days I’m convince that I could spend my time better in a bar.
When discussing the concept of “Law”, in this case, we’ll say a moral Law, as a standard measure of value (which I define as a combination of truth and morality (moral GOOD)), before we can jump right in to building a philosophy around the idea of “Law” we must first answer very specific questions. These questions will form our foundational presumptions and thus define the entirety of our metaphysical and epistemological approach to not only what we consider the standards of truth, but also how to enforce them…upon ourselves and, more importantly, upon other people.
This is good to understand. Whole nations of people have been wiped out because of how certain other people decided to answer these questions.
The understanding which forms the crux of any moral law is simply this:
Doing this thing (x) is GOOD.
So what are the obvious (or perhaps not so obvious) questions which must follow? The first is, of course: WHY is it GOOD? The second is, of course: WHAT is GOOD? Meaning that any idea which presents itself as a law must have a standard by which it is measured in order that doing it, whatever IT is, can be called “GOOD”. In other words, the act of doing it (A) must be in service to something (B), and that something then must be the root of WHY doing that thing is GOOD. A (the act) is GOOD because it is in service to B (the object). So we must define what exactly B is, which gives the law a right to declare that doing A is GOOD.
If B is the Law itself, meaning if the standard of GOOD is the Law itself, then that means anything NOT the Law is inherently and totally antithetical to GOOD (the root of the doctrine of Total Depravity). Which contradicts the notion that anything else NOT the Law can act in service to the Law. For the Law itself is the standard of value, and as such, anything else can only exist as a contradiction to it. If the Law itself is GOOD, and GOOD is absolute, then nothing else can be GOOD, and nothing else can DO GOOD, because GOOD cannot by definition proceed directly from that which is not GOOD.
So remember, the first question is WHY is doing it GOOD? The answer in this first example is: because the Law itself is GOOD. The act of obeying the Law is GOOD because, and only because, the Law itself is GOOD.
But that is a contradiction in terms. It is senseless. Because if the Law is GOOD itself, then any act of any outside agency (not GOOD) is redundant and irrelevant. The Law, being GOOD, does not need man to act in service to it, because it is already utterly and completely GOOD in and of itself. Bringing man into the picture can only ever present an offense to the pure GOOD of the self of the Law. Man cannot act in service to that which is already perfectly GOOD without him. Therefore, man can never do GOOD, for GOOD is not man, it is the Law. Man can do no GOOD because man is by definition outside of GOOD. All of man’s actions stem from a place which is NOT GOOD, because the Law is GOOD, and as such, any action of man, regardless of what it is or if the Law (contradictorily) says to do it cannot possibly be GOOD because any action will be in service to that which is already perfectly GOOD without him, rendering the Law itself a hypocrite, demanding GOOD but being GOOD without such action. So, crazy as it sounds, this is precisely the argument those who claim the Law as the source of God’s judgment upon mankind. The Law saying “do x or y” is the beginning and end of goodness. Man offers nothing to the Law. And thus of course the only way man can be reconciled to the perfect GOOD of the Law is to die. Non-existence is man’s only way of “existing” in peace with the absolute Law.
Now, alternately, if we say that doing A is GOOD because B is MAN…that is, humanity, then the perfect standard of GOOD is not the Law, but human beings. And if human beings ARE the standard by which the Law can be declared GOOD or not, then the Law itself as any source of self-derived morality becomes moot. It cannot in fact be a Law because a Law, in the moral sense, presumes obedience to IT as the prerequisite for moral behavior. Moral GOOD. But man, if man is the standard, cannot act in service to a Law in order to be GOOD (which he already is) but can only act then in service to himself, because HE is the standard of all GOOD. Making the Law itself as a LAW, again, moot. The Law may be instructive to man…it may teach him efficacious ways of affirming himself as the standard of GOOD, but it can no longer BE the standard which binds man. Which means that man is not declared righteous or unrighteous by how well he obeys the Law, but by how well he affirms himself and others for HIS OWN sake, for the sake of his LIFE, which is the standard, not the Law. Thus the Law now becomes “law”…for if the Law merely points to man as the standard of WHY obedience to the Law is GOOD, then obedience to the Law itself as the source of reward or damnation becomes moot and irrelevant. Behavioral actions become relative to the LIFE of the individual human being…actions demanded by the “law” now become contextual to the human being. Which again means that the law is NOT absolute, but MAN is. And thus all actions can only be observed as GOOD or EVIL insofar as they affirm that MAN has the right to his LIFE in any given context because his life is THE standard of all VALUE (morality and truth).
This, I submit is Paul the Apostle’s point, and as you can see, it is a difficult one to articulate. Those who might be quick to judge Paul for his confusing epistles would do well to offer him the benefit of the doubt. The good news is that he does, eventually, make the right argument. Salvation cannot logically be of the Law…it must be of Christ, because Christ represents the reinstatement of humanity as the plumb line of value by God, Himself; a removal of the Law which can only logically condemn men/demand their death as payment for its moral perfection. The bad news is that the argument in light of the juggernaut of Platonist thinking which so pervades Western thought to the point of it almost being utterly fused with man’s entire understanding of his own categorical existence, means that false teachers like Calvinists, James Jordan, and other gnostics will swarm to exploit the tedious argument to serve themselves like Yellow Jackets swarm trash cans. Given the difficulty of Paul’s task, I submit that Jesus had him pay for his crimes against humanity both physically and psychologically. In addition, he gets to go down in history as the most misunderstood, misrepresented, and exploited Christian in history, beloved by mystic despots everywhere.