Now I have to state from the beginning that while I have always had a fascination with the law, I never studied the subject. I look to the reality of law as a pastor, historian and theologian.
One of the interesting things in the Book of Genesis is the Patriarchs’ sense of the divine justice. In Abraham’s pleading with God for the sparing of Sodom and Gomorrah from God’s intended destruction, he says: “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Abraham is fully convinced that in every circumstance, the judgments of God are right.
Later in the history of the Israelites we find that the giving of the Ten Commandments functioned as the foundations of the Jewish law. The Psalmists describe the law of God as good, right, and light. During the Babylonian captivity, the prophets remind the people that they have left the laws of the Lord and they have become evil, corrupt and have aligned themselves with foreign gods.
In the history of humanity there are a number of major laws and creators of those laws. There are the Hammurabi Code, The Decalogue, The Justinian Code, the Magna Carta, and the Napoleonic Code. Many nations elevate their excellent legal minds to the standing of kings, heroes or artists. We in the United States have the expression that we are a nation of laws. We submit ourselves to the laws of the land.
The concept referenced by President Obama is a troublesome one. In its simple form, the question is how laws protect us if they are not in themselves good or moral. We all know of laws that have been made for the sole purpose of oppressing other human beings. The Psalmist is aware of this when he writes that when evil men (and we can add evil laws) reign, good men suffer. In the case of the law forbidding Apostle Peter to preach, he opts for defiance. Later in American history we find others who are willing to defy the oppressive laws, such as those who take place in the Boston Tea Party or led slaves along the Underground Railroad.
There is also a legal argument floating around in some sectors that we should make smoking marijuana legal in order to have fewer people smoke it. They made this same argument alluding to the Prohibition. I have listened carefully to people who argue against Prohibition, but I have not seen any statistical evidence that Americans drink less today because Prohibition was defeated. The same argument was made for abortion. Abortion should be passed and there will be fewer abortions. However, there are no statistics to prove this point. The Bible tells us that wine is a mocker and sooner or later will make a fool of most people. God, who shapes the human being in the womb, does not make a creation in his image so that humans could for their own pleasure (or sometimes less desirable situations) eliminate it.
As I listened to President Obama argue, he argued forcefully against the greed that has corrupted many people in the financial sector. As I listened to him make the distinction between legally right and morally corrupt in the financial sector, I could apply the same distinctive to his position on abortion. He and thousands others are legally right – we have a law in this country that allows abortion. However, no matter how many people agree with this law, it does not make it good or morally right.
God’s laws are good because they are centered in God’s holiness and sacredness. When man-made laws are departing from this source, they may be utilitarian, they will please some or many people, but they will never be morally right and therefore good.