Friday, January 20, 2012

Positive Laws are Dangerous

God’s law is often criticised for being negative, but God has good reason for giving his law in a negative form. Few Christians understand this, but negative laws enhance freedom. The authorities have no authority until a crime happens, if law is phrased negatively. Those who do not commit crimes are free. Consider the eight commandment.

You shall not steal.
This law has no implication for the behaviour of anyone who does not steal. The law has a penalty, but it only applies to thieves. The authorities can only apply this law to those who steal. People who do not steal are free to do what they like with their money. This gives us great freedom. Once I accept that stealing is out of bounds, I can ignore this law and get on with my life. I can do what we like, without any fear of the authorities. A negative law has no relevance for those who do not want to not break it.

A positively stated law gives the authorities much greater power and greatly reduces freedom. Consider a positively stated law.
You must give all spare money to the poor
This law would gives the authorities the right to monitor and challenge every financial transaction. They would have authority to check on every person who spends money. Freedom to do what I like with my money would be gone.

God’s law does not give the authorities responsibility for forcing people to lead virtuous lives, although some Christians would like them to do that (eg prostitution laws). The law cannot change human nature, so it cannot eliminate sin. The only solution to sin is being born again by the Holy Spirit in response to the gospel of Jesus. God does not expect his law to eliminate sin. He gave the law to provide societies with a way to restrain the very worst effects of sin, not to make people good. Negative laws are best for that purpose. In contrast, modern authorities like to control every aspect of life. This is why many man-laws are in a positive form. Most Christians prefer man-made laws, so it is not surprising that they do not understand the benefits of negative laws.

1 comment:

John G. said...

Nice, clear, and logical; thanks!