Legalism comes about when you make more and more laws in order to protect legitimate laws. The problem is, that in the name of prudence and the general welfare, these additional laws end up obscuring the original legitimate law into oblivion. After coat after coat of additional paint, the original color is no longer recognizable. The Jews thought they were honoring God and doing everyone a favor by adding to the penal code to mandate more and more behavior, and, inversely, to criminalize more and more behavior.
I encourage all legislators, of both stripes, to ask a question before ever proposing a piece of legislation: Is this an attempt to use the force of the state to coerce desirable behavior by criminalizing and outlawing things which ought not to be defined as criminal activity? If so, I would dare say it is an illegitimate use of the sword-bearing authority of the state. I’m speaking simply here, and do realize that there is complexity and nuance, but think we need to be reminded of the simple fundamental things to guide us. Difficult cases makes bad law. And many laws, though aimed for a greater society, may end up obscuring the virtues of a free society.
Laws, regulations, mandates, etc., are all a big deal in God’s eyes. Jesus was furious with the distortion of legitimate law, and their intended spirit, in the attempts by the religious industrial complex to lord it over the people. They were truly trying to strain a gnat, and in the process were really swallowing camels. Some folks mock what they think the superfluous sections in the Old Testament that deal with law, but it was actually quite simple, especially compared to the thousands upon thousands of pages that now govern our nation, states, and municipalities. This breeds not only cynicism, but a burden that can’t sustainably be carried. Worst of all, it breeds hypocrites of the worse sort – the kind Jesus couldn’t stand. No one likes a legalistic Pharisee with the coercive power of the sword. That’s a lethal combo. God, help us!
© 2014, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.