Torah and Natural Law

(In this section I am indebted to Abraham Heschel and to a follow-up conversation with Gerald Bray)

I have been careful in the last post to use the phrase “woven into the nature of things.” We speak of the world as being “governed by principles” and even if we describe those as having their origin in God, we strip away much of the sense of their intent and goal. Natural law is in the nature of things not because it is from the nature of things. Nor are there laws in nature as a substitute for the activity or interest of God. In spite of the overlap, we must say that there is something entirely different between the Torah and a concept like “Natural Law.”  From a Bible standpoint, there is not an idea behind “Natural Law” nor is there a concept behind Torah.  Behind both there is a Person.  If the concept of “Natural Law” intersects with Torah, it is because they have a common author.  The problem with an idea like “Natural Law” is that it expresses if/then relationships stripped of their relationality, apart from which we can never know the purpose or intention of the Law.

God’s interest in justice flows out of His interest in and love for His Creation.  This is at the core of the uniqueness of God’s revelation to the Jewish people.  The Greco-Roman world pictured justice as a blind-folded maiden with a scale and a sword.  The Torah presents Justice as emanating from an All-Seeing God with a Heart of Compassion.  The sword may divide things, but the Righteousness of God seeks to reconcile things.  The scale may offer us equality, but the Righteousness of God is concerned with equity.  The blindfold offers us impartiality, but the Righteousness of God offers us loving insightfulness.  It would be wrong to be tried in the court where your father is the judge. That would lend itself to partiality.   But we are standing in that court where the Judge is the Father of us all- that is an impartiality we could not foresee.  The best we humans can attempt is to be partial to no-one.  But God maintains impartiality by personal connection to everyone.  He looks at us all recalling both that “we are but dust” and that He “knitted us together in our mother’s womb.” 

God gives Torah not because He is a God of Rules but because He is a God of Love.  The Hebrew word we translate “righteousness” is not an exact analogy to the Greek.  In fact, they are quite different.  Even today, a person in Judaism is called “righteousness” when their deeds are not only just but also good, compassionate, and caring to others.  The “righteousness of the LORD” in the Hebrew Scriptures is not that God is legally precise, but that He is legally nuanced.  He comes to the aid of those who have no advocate, no “pull.”  And He comes because He cares.  God does not discuss the killing of Abel in terms of breaking the rules, but in terms of breaking His heart.  He says to Cain “What have you done?  The voice of your brother’s blood is calling to Me from the ground.”  When the LORD looked at the inhumanity of humanity, Genesis 6:6 tells us “He was grieved in His heart.”  Justice, righteousness, and mercy are not abstractions. They are manifestations of God’s love for His creation.  Our sins against each other are at their core sins against God. 

Biblical faith does not offer us a world where things happen in conditions of Heavenly disengagement.  The Bible tells us that even when God seems to be silent, He is never indifferent.  He is never absent.  He is the God of principles only because He is the God of persons.  He is the God of justice, righteousness, and mercy because He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

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