Friday, February 6, 2009

The Strategy of Right, Number 2

[See also The Strategy of Right, Number 1]



For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

Romans 7:22-8:2


The first law of nature impels people to act against the person who assaults the image of God represented in another. It is right to follow this impulse, because as human beings we are bound and determined (obliged) by God's will to do so. It is our nature. Thus the first right of nature provides the paradigm for the definition of a right, as a natural predisposition to act in accordance with God's will. This predisposition corresponds with our obligation to God and is the same in all who are of the same nature as we. We are disposed to come together (covenant), to agree in the same course of action, which is to say we one and all mutually consent to the performance of it. Properly understood, therefore, such consent is not an arbitrary determination of our will. Rather it is a consequence of our natural inclination to do God's will.

By this consent, we spontaneously form a community. This community of action, which emerges from the executive impulse encoded by God into our nature, is the archetype of the first lawful human societies not strictly arising from procreation. It emerges in the context of bloodshed, by means of a reaction that acknowledges the image of God in others, and therefore recognizes their humanity. It is the shedding of man's blood that gives rise to the reaction, and only in other men. The operation of the first law of nature therefore presumes consanguinity, a community of blood. But though this community includes all humanity, humanity is clearly recognized only after the fact.

We will understand this better after looking more carefully at the Bible's account of God's promulgation of the law of retribution. He says that He will require an accounting for the destruction of human life from every man and beast. At first, the notion of holding the beasts accountable may seem odd. But as in our mind's eye we look more carefully at the scene being called into account, we understand. We are out hunting with a group of others from our village. We all see from a distance a beast crouching to feed upon the body of another beast. We approach the crouching beast from behind, thinking to surprise and slay it for its meat. As we come closer to the scene, we recognize in the lifeless form stretched out upon the ground someone we know to be a man like ourselves, perhaps a son or brother. Apprehension mingles with the excitement of the kill, and we move at once to strike dead the wild beast that seems to feed upon him. Alerted by our sudden move, the creature turns and we note with horror the bloody features of another who seems to all appearances, like one of us. Our blow is falling. Do we stay our hand? It looks like a man, but in the slaying our brother for food, it behaves like a beast. The indignity of it stokes our indignation. As one man we strike and strike, as if to annihilate the shame, pouring his blood, like our brother's, into the cursed ground.

In the Biblical account the promulgation of the first law of nature occurs in consequence of God's proclamation of the dietary dispensation that characterizes human nature after the Great Flood. As a concession to the evil inclinations of humanity, God adds meat to the human diet, and the hunting of beasts for food to the catalogue of human activities. It makes sense then to imagine the application of the law of retribution in the context of the hunt. In that context arises the need to distinguish man from beast, so that hunting does not become an excuse to re-introduce among mankind the untamed violence that contaminated the world before the Great Flood. So by the law of retribution God encodes a check into the nature of man, a telltale sign that flags our recognition of humanity in others and so confirms our own.

This reactive basis for our recognition of common humanity is not, of course, the only one. In the scene we have just imagined, we recognized the victim as someone like ourselves because we were already familiar with them. They came from our community. In this respect, the human community arising from procreation takes precedence over that which forms in reaction to transgressors. It is based upon the positive recognition of humanity in consequence of which the mother, on account of a bond arising from her physical predisposition, acknowledges the humanity of her children and consents to preserve and care for them.

This means that there are two natural principles of human community. One flows directly from the physical predisposition of the human body; the other from our emotional reaction to its destruction. The first defines community in terms of all that is required to produce and preserve the body. The second is defined by what God commands us to do in reaction to a murderous assault upon it. The first conceives community in the context of the law of love which is the principle whereby God rules the universe. The second produces human community in the context of the code, dictated by God's will, whereby man governs man. Obviously, we do not use the word "law" in the same sense in both cases, for the law of love is the consequence of perfect freedom, while the law of man is a reaction against his abuse of its reflection. In a sense, therefore, the law of love is not law at all, at least not in the sense of a rule enforced to constrain wrongdoing. True love can do no wrong, but seeks only to serve and preserve what is good. The good of each particular being consists in that which respects the form and substance of its existence. Love does this, respecting the limits and boundaries of particular being, without which that being's existence becomes inconceivable. As a rule operating in conformity with this respect, love takes on the form of a law, though without any implication of force or constraint. For that which respects the limits and boundaries required for the existence of a particular being frees rather than constrains it, unless particular existence itself be regarded as constraint. But every particular exists by the will of God, which is absolutely free. Therefore the law of love is freedom.

Still, though every man is a particular being, in whom the freedom of God is realized as a fact, each is also a person, which is to say an image of God in whom the freedom of God is only reflected as a possibility. Now a fact is what it is. But a possibility is only what it will be, what the will (understood with reference to the future) determines it to be. So each man experiences the freedom of God as a will determined in such a way as to bring about the possibility; therefore, as a choice suspended among ways of being not yet determined by it. This human experience of the will (with reference to the future)is of course, not identical with that of God, as God is not bound by the prerequisites of human existence, such as time and space. And therein lies the dilemma. For God, the will is being, absolute and unquestionable. But of our humanity the Bard said accurately, "to be or not to be, that is the question." We question that which is, in the will of God, unquestionable, starting with the possibility of our own existence. Like Eve, or Cain or the one who sheds innocent blood, we may choose to act upon a possibility that contradicts the possibility we ourselves represent. The extremes of murder or suicide simply epitomize the enduring dilemma of our special nature: the imperfection of our existence coincides with the perfection of our nature, and vice-versa.

To understand this better, we must remember that in its origins the word "perfection" refers to something finished or complete. Because we are made in the image of God, freedom is in our nature. But in the absolute sense, freedom must include every possibility, including the possibility that denies or contradicts the image of God in us. (When Eve ate the forbidden fruit, she chose to act as if her likeness to God required something other than what God had already provided. Her intention was Godly i.e., consistent with God's intention for her. But by substituting herself for God as the agent of that intention, she effectively denied its fulfillment, because only God could provide the substance required for it. In like manner, Cain sought in his sacrifice to acknowledge his dependence upon God, as his Godliness required of him. But by the murder of his brother, he ends up denying the unity with God that is the cause of that dependency, especially in those who like himself are persons, and who therefore represent the image of God.) If we refrain from the choice that denies God's will for us, the freedom that is in our nature seems to us to remain unfulfilled. Our nature seems to us imperfect. But If we exercise the choice, though we seem to fulfill the freedom inherent in our nature, we actually deny the will of God that alone makes this freedom appear possible for us in the first place. The dilemma is resolved only when we forego trying to remedy our seeming imperfection in our own way, and trust instead that God's will coincides with our perfection. Our trust is rewarded with the appearance of Christ, the one whose appearance in human form proves the coincidence of God's will with our seeming imperfection, thereby opening our eyes to the Godly perfection God first offered and still intends for us.

According to the Biblical account, the origin of nature as we now know it is the human decision to complete our freedom of choice by denying God's choice for our freedom. Thanks to this choice, we live in the context of sin, evil and death. Having denied the presence of God within us, we must be constrained by force to respect the will of God for us, which is to say for our existence, life and good. We live therefore under the law that takes account of our inveterate inclination to sin and that relies upon the force of retribution to discourage and repress the destructive actions occasioned by it.

Thus arises the need for external government, for which the first law of nature supplies the wherewithal. This comes in the form of a natural community that arises in response to transgression, as people of goodwill come together, all motivated to provide for this response. This covenant community of goodwill is the seed which, properly cultivated by reason, becomes a civil society. Proper cultivation involves first of all the recognition that righteous passion alone cannot subdue those whose fatal prowess has already dispatched at least one victim. People of goodwill must therefore provide against this prowess, outfitting and preparing themselves effectively to prosecute wrongdoers. The will to repress and discourage their wrong actions (to govern their unruly behavior) must be armed with an instrument devised to achieve the intended result. The different powers of government, and the organizations instituted to apply them supply this instrument.

This discussion sheds light on the true origin and characteristics of government based upon consent. As derived from the natural law of retribution, government is an external institution that emerges from the consent (common feeling or inclination) of people of good will (that is, God's will) who come together (covenant) to execute his commands, in order to repress and discourage wrongdoers. The consent from which the just powers of government are derived is not a passive token of agreement, but an active acceptance of responsibility for the constitution of those powers. This is in harmony with the language commonly used to signify the development and confirmation of consent, such as "I move that such and such be done," "I second the motion," and "The motion carries." All this language signifies that consent is a continuous activity, reminiscent of the steps required to gather and make successful use of a militia or army in defense of the community.

The reason for the title of this series of essays should now be apparent. The very concept of government derived from the Bible's first law of our nature takes shape in the context of offensive action, undertaken by people of goodwill against those whose actions conclusively demonstrate their opposite disposition (bad will). By putting into practice the will of God, the people of goodwill literally exercise the right. For this purpose they form themselves into a body, that is, constitute civil society and government, just as an army (in the Latin, exercitus ) forms itself for war. Now in warfare, strategy is the planning that clarifies the aims and objectives of the exercise, and that organizes and directs its movements to achieve them. Right (in Latin jus, from which we say justice) as Madison wrote "is the end of government. It is the end of civil society." As the general must think through and implement the strategy whereby his army may achieve its goal in battle, so those responsible for the conduct of government must think through the strategy whereby people of goodwill may win victory for right.


In light of all this, a question to ponder: How can anyone who claims to approach government from a Biblical perspective offer leadership that removes the issue of right, as God establishes it, from its proper position as the strategic goal and aim of all political action?



larry white said...

I have never opened occasional e-mails from Mr. Steele because I knew he represented the elite bipartisan establishment---which I ignorantly, though reluctantly, supported every time I voted for a presumed "lesser of two evils". I appreciate Dr. Keyes sharing his deep insight into ironies I was missing, and most importantly their true spiritual basis.

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