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The Old Law

After my Old Testament class last semester I was forced to confront my longtime questions about the relevance of the Old Testament - especially the long, dreary lists of weird and crazy laws.

Are we supposed to obey these laws still?

I don't know.  I don't think so, but that's not the point.

Spending your life trying to obey the laws is one way to guarantee misery.  For starters, you'll fail, and even where you do succeed you'll expect some sort of recognition that God frankly doesn't care to give.  That's not the way to know him or serve him.  Laws are dangerous things because they can be so easily misused, both by people in authority (especially authority over children who dearly long to please the grownups they love) and by the strict self-governing types.  It spells misery.

This could be a long post about why observance of the law is a risky priority, but tonight I'd just like quickly to propose a thought about why it's in there (and why it gets so many pages in our sacred text).

Augustine is clear in his belief that self-knowledge is the way to know God.  We can't know ourselves without God, and we can't know him unless we look within.  Tonight I'm reading Peter Abailard's commentary on Romans 3:19-26, and he's started out by explaining that the law exists to help us see how incapable we are of obeying it.  It is decidedly not meant to show us that we are terrible, that we are awful and unworthy, or that we need to grovel.  It shows us something about ourselves that we must know before we can go forth in our relationship with God.

It shows us that we are incomplete by nature.  We are limited and we are creatures in need.  The gift of the law was and is a remarkable gift of means to self-knowledge.  As we attempt to obey, we learn in our failings that we are the sort of creatures who fail - NOT so we can hate ourselves, but so we can love God.

Denys Turner used to say in our Aquinas class last term that God doesn't forgive us for our sins because he doesn't care enough about them.  They're not the point.  Our failures aren't the point.  Neither are our good deeds "of the flesh," either.

It's a love story, and this book of scary laws is there to help us get to know both of the players - the lover and the beloved.  It's about knowledge of the reality of God and the beings he created.


  1. I absolutely loved reading this. I've been reading the OT lately and it's brought up a lot of questions that never really occurred to me back at Pepp reading it in Religion 101, and you just addressed them head on.

    It really is so fascinating to unravel the spool of the WHOLE story of the Bible, but also so hard to integrate the past into the NT portion of the story and find out why that history IS so important.

    I love reading about all of the wonderful things you're learning :)


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