If the doctrine of the Trinity is our biggest mess, then our biggest lightning rod might be the Law.
When we say the Law, we are speaking of Torah, not the thing escaped convicts flee or Bo and Luke Duke try to give the slip by jumping the General Lee. OK, maybe there’s more to that comparison than we’re willing to admit.
The Law we’re talking about here isn’t the police or the specific legal code. It’s bigger than that. It’s Torah. The first five books of the Bible. Often called the Books of Moses.
The Law contains both story and legal codes of conduct. And our tradition comes from an interlocked understanding of both.
We might think of the Law as like our family’s origin story. It sets the groundwork for how we all see ourselves through our shared history. A history which doesn’t just function as great memories of our birthday parties or times Mom and Dad taught us to ride our bike.
It establishes the social norms of the family. For my family, our story establishes what it means to be a Downs.
So when we talk about the Law, we’re talking about something a little more complicated than the by-laws of your local congregation.
What’s the controversy?
If it’s our origin story, then what’s the big deal? What is there to fight over? We all come from the same place, right? We all know what it means to come from this one family, don’t we?
If we go back and remember some of those trouble spots in our history, including the Jesus Wars which dealt with the nature of Jesus, we can see how one detail about Jesus can cause a lot of confusion.
But this is a question that goes all the way back to the beginning.
Paul’s letters give us a pretty mixed bag of what to think about God, Jesus, and the Law. What is consistent is the sense that something changed God’s equation in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
In the mid 2nd Century, one of the church’s most famous heretics brought up an idea which has attracted faithful people from the beginning. He argued that the God of the Old Testament is fundamentally different from the God of the New Testament. This leads many to see the two parts of scripture as divided and their purposes divided.
The compulsion to separate Christianity from its Jewish roots came early and often. Sparked first by the inclusion of non-Jewish converts and then by a sense of unique revelation, Christians have swung from a need to self-differentiate from Judaism to the violent impulses of oppression and murder.
Confusion over Jesus’s purpose
There are many other factors, but really, most of them can be boiled down to the question of what it is that Jesus came to do. This includes questions about how his death and resurrection are involved and what this means for the Covenant with the Hebrew people.
Was Jesus reconciling the great divide over sin? Was he creating a new relationship? What is this new covenant of Jesus? And what do we do with the old one?
New and Old.
I try to resist using the terms New and Old in reference to our scriptures. You might think that’s a bit PC. I get it. But I do it because the implicit bias for the new feeds an understanding of God’s relationship we all wrestle with: Supersessionism.
The contours of our relationship to the Jewish people are fraught with a truly horrible history of not only violence, but brutal thinking and disgusting imagery toward the Jews.
The lightening rod of our faith is dealing with both our shared Jewish history and a belief that we possess a special claim to a new birthright. Many Christians are drawn to the idea that we get a preferred future from God simply because we say Jesus is pretty fly for a non-white guy.
Our tradition and history have given us many choices about how to see the Law. And there’s a way we can move forward without pretending we’re king of the mountain and the rest can just deal.
We can find great consistency in the big story of God working with creation. We can see a God and a people learning from each other and loving each other. A love story in which God’s heart is broken over and over by a rebellious people. Before and after Jesus.
We can see God working in many ways to help us see the truth and to value our relationship to God and one another. To love and be love to each other.
All that is truly possible. And we can believe that God did a new and amazing thing in Jesus. That God chose to experience life as a human does as a reflection of love and learning.
The story is consistent.
And it is totally above board to wear Jesus-colored glasses. Because he was not only down with the Law, he made a regular habit of pointing out how often we struggle to fundamentally understand it. In him, it makes more sense.
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This is from a series on Choices. We have plenty more choices to make!