Why did God “try” the law if he knew he was going to send Jesus to fix what we couldn’t live up to?



  1. April 25, 2011 at 10:02 am — Reply

    I think “the law” is just reality. Asking why God tried it if he knew he’d have to bail us out later is sort of like asking why did God try out the law of gravity if he knew sooner or later we’d trip over something and bump our heads, and he’d have to help us back up and put some salve on that nasty cut. One is about how things are, the other is about relationships, given how things are.

    • April 25, 2011 at 10:46 am — Reply

      I’m afraid I’m confused by your comment.

      Is “The Law” separate from what we read about in Exodus and, in greater detail, Leviticus?

      It seems there was a time before the law provided guidance for the way people should live (pre-Ten-Commandments) and there is a time after the law’s authority (post resurrection). Is the law a reality today?

      • April 25, 2011 at 12:29 pm — Reply

        I’m trying to make sense of it in a way that accommodates what Jesus says about it in Mt. 5:17 (“Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them”) and what Paul says about it in Eph. 2 (that Christ enables peace between us and the law), and our shared desire to find a way to explain it that doesn’t make God evil (i.e. turn the “plan of salvation” into a manipulative con).

        When I say that the law is “reality,” I’m thinking that God made the cosmos, and like anything, the cosmos works according to certain rules. This includes “laws,” i.e. realities, things that happen as the consequence of something else, predictably, like gravity and entropy, and also like life and death. Those are the laws for this cosmos, as God made it. Any cosmos would have laws that are something like that in order to exist. Any physical cosmos, at least.

        But then God decided that he deson’t just want creatures that glorify him de facto, because they’re the result of his imagination and power, like rocks, trees, and animals would. He wants a creature that can actually love him. But the ability to love, truly love, is only possible with a divine attribute — the ability to exercise free will. And it’s a dangerous attribute, even for immortals, as Lucifer’s choice not to love God has already shown. But love is more important to God than not taking risks, so he gives this attribute to what is essentially an intelligent ape on one planet in his cosmos — human kind.

        Since perfect love and perfect exercise of free will would require perfect omniscience, and nobody but God Himself has that, humans fail just like immortals have failed before them, in exercising free will perfectly. They come up against their own limitations (which, unlike God’s limitations, which he sets for himself out of wisdom, are dictated to them by the realities of the cosmos in which they live, since they cannot manipulate those very well). Those limitations include not knowing everything needed to know to make perfect decisions, the sometimes uncontrolled animal instincts that are part of them, and the weakness of their finititude, which keeps them from always wanting to exercise free will, and from wanting to do so well. They also include not being able to see the divine like they see what they think of as “their world,” because the divine reality would obliterate them.

        So God knows he’s set up a reality for humans that works according to high expectations. He knows failure is inevitable. He also knows that failure can only be avoided if humans learn their own limitations — that they need to see, beyond their natural capacity to see and understand, how it’s possible to use a divine attribute like free will even though they’re only a creature. How it’s possible to love like God. It’s the first time a creature has ever been put into this position, so it’s a risk. God happens to have confidence it can be done.

        So the entire OT law is really there, not as a way to bend humans specifically to a code of life God happens to find pleasing, but to show humans that their own free will, their divine attribute, to be executed perfectly, would have to meet the standards of the cosmos (i.e. the law). Those who struggle to meet this standard are good, even if they fail, because they’ve understood what they need to live up to and choose to use their free will in the attempt. Those who do not struggle to meet this standard are evil, have quit being the creature God made them to be, and therefore have given up the core of their humanity that elevates them over animals and trees and rocks. They’ve opted to just be creatures — beautiful and powerful creatures, whose beauty and power still glorifies God because he made them, but creatures who choose to subject themselves ONLY to the laws of the cosmos, such as gravity, entropy, and life and death.

        The problem is, just trying isn’t good enough. Even the most intently striving humans cannot overcome their own humanity — the frailties that make them not-immortal, and which therefore keep them from exercising their free will (and loving) like God does. This is a law of the cosmos. But because free will instils not just divine ability, but also divine expectations of themselves (i.e. pride), humans have a hard time understanding that if one part of them is divine, that doesn’t make all of them divine (i.e. gods). And the idea that through power of will they can become perfect is the final hubristic step on the very long and necessary journey to exercise free will properly. Apparently, a journey that, in order for humans to learn that this failure, too, is a law of the cosmos, because no creature can will itself to be divine, took as many years for humans to learn as there are between creation and Christ’s coming.

        Christ then comes to show us how we can, actually, be perfect, that God knows we’re failures, that this is not the result of “just deserts” or divine maliciousness, but actually of high divine expectations (i.e. love). Essentially, Christ’s life is both the story of inevitable human failing (as a human, he strives to be perfect and yet is given over to the laws of creatures in this cosmos, and dies) and the “good news” that this is not futile — or our purpose, just because we can’t see beyond those laws, as limited creatures. The divine is stronger than the cosmos. And so to exercise our free will in accordance to the divine, we must accept that we can’t do it on our own, and that it can be done — that’s why God becomes a creature, to show us the reality that he is, in fact, among us and that it can, as a result, be done. Like Christ, we can actually take control of our divine attribute, if we understand that the submission we are called to is not only submission to and ackowledgement of our creature-ness (i.e. understanding our place in the cosmos), and not only trying our best to choose to exercise our free will in the divine way (i.e. doing and being good), but also see that this is not a pointless, cruel exercise: God wants us to exist in this way, wants us to choose being human (having one divine attribute, and only one, and needing to use it well) over being animal, wants us to keep striving in the face of failure, wants us to understand that there is more to the cosmos than we can see or control, and wants to demonstrate that he loves us, really, as only the one non-divine creature he’s chosen can be loved, with the most potent gesture of love humans can understand — dying for us.

        So that’s how Christ “fulfills” the law without abolishing it — i.e. it’s actually an acknowledgement of reality rather than some trick to get out of it. And that’s how he establishes peace with the law, because we understand its true nature, rather than misunderstanding it as a tyranny.

        But of course I’m just speculating.

        And I apologize for taking over your blog.

        • April 25, 2011 at 12:31 pm — Reply

          I also apologize for starting all my sentences with conjunctions. That’s the result of writing off the cuff, not a stylistic choice. Sorry. My editor is off today…

  2. Vanessa
    April 25, 2011 at 10:36 am — Reply

    I don’t think it was so much a trial, but rather a display. Our God knew/knows our nature and knows that as stubborn, independent, defiant people we have to experience things for ourselves before accepting them as truth. I think God put this on display by showing us how imperfect we are and how unable we are to keep His law-thus creating a deeper need for a Saviour and a stronger desire for freedom from that law which can’t be kept to perfection.

  3. April 25, 2011 at 10:39 am — Reply

    Wouldn’t that make it a con, though — set up rules just to show we can’t keep them, thus trapping us into a feeling of helplessness without God? That sounds like a malicious, rigged game. I think that was the implication of Todd’s question.

    • April 25, 2011 at 10:50 am — Reply

      That is the spirit of my question. If God put the law into motion to show that we could never live up to it, he seems to be manipulating the circumstances in his favor.

      That idea makes me uncomfortable, at best. I can’t imagine creating a similar system for my (future) children, so the idea that God would have done something similar is concerning.

  4. Steven
    April 25, 2011 at 12:22 pm — Reply

    I don’t think God knew. This is one of many questions that drove me to accept a more open view of God and time and the way God interacts with us. For more information I’d suggest reading the old testament, paying particular attention to all the passages where God’s mind is changed, or God seems surprised by what happens. If that doesn’t help, then I suggest “The God Who Risks” by John Sanders as a good starting point for investigating Open-Theism.

    • April 25, 2011 at 12:37 pm — Reply

      Steven, it’s actually this idea of the openness of God that inspired this question. I’m exploring and wrestling with the idea of God constantly redeeming his creation – what we screw up, he is putting right. Every time we move against his will, he is creating a new way for us to come into alignment with it.

      This idea has some scary implications and believing an all-powerful, but not-all-knowing God is a radical departure from what I grew up with.

      • Steven
        April 25, 2011 at 12:45 pm — Reply

        Then I definitely recommend checking out John Sanders book. I became an open theist in 2002, but I didn’t know it wan actual theology that other people believed. It was something I cobbled together from my own understanding of scripture and all the philosophy I was reading at the time. It was quite a relief to me when I later found out that there are several theologians who embrace open-theism, or parts of it. If it helps you don’t have to give up the idea that God is all-knowing. It could be argued that God knows all possible futures, just maybe not which one will happen. That’s not what I believe, but some open-theists do.

  5. Vanessa
    April 25, 2011 at 12:56 pm — Reply

    I guess I hadn’t thought of my view of this in such a way, but I can certainly see how it could be viewed as manipulative. Your comments are challenging me to think about it more. I certainly don’t love a God who has tricked me into loving him…I’ll have to give this more thought. Thanks for posing the question, Todd. I look forward to examining this further.

  6. Jonathan Reinhardt
    April 25, 2011 at 12:57 pm — Reply

    I agree with Steven. I think the result is open, which is why the law is decriptive, rather than proscriptive. This is who you are, God says, and this is who I am, so now let’s run with it.

  7. Todd
    December 25, 2011 at 5:22 pm — Reply

    I find it easier to live within the the Law now that I am under a new covenant in Christ. Fact is, God gave us a set of rules that would last beyond the earth and heavens passing away…a part of scripture you failed to follow up with. Fact is, since I have accepted Christ as my personal Savior, I find that that Law gives me freedoms rather than limits me. Which is why, back then, it limited them. Under Christ we have many more freedoms by accepting Him as savior and living within the Law. That is why Hanukkah and Jesus’ birth have more in common than Jesus’ birth and the celebration of pagan saturn. I would recommend following the Law being observant as an Orthodoxed Jew would be and feel the freedom that comes with Christ! Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!

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Why did God “try” the law if he knew he was going to send Jesus to fix what we couldn’t live up to?