All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
~ J.R.R. Tolkien
Legalists of both the liberal and conservative variety treat truth similarly; as though it were a collection of facts that we can act on independently and reliably manipulate in order to get what we want out of life. The best people of both stripes want good things for others as well as themselves–conservative Christian legalists tend to focus on eternal salvation for themselves and others, and liberal Christians legalists tend to focus on working towards a utopia on this earth, or getting the world as close to a utopia as we can reasonably manage for the good of all.
There is, however, a fatal flaw in the way that they both go about their projects. Laws about the physical world, properly applied, lead to amazing scientific achievements, such as airplanes, water purification systems, and skyscrapers. We can never, and should never assume the same kind of mastery over moral truth. This attitude of pride leads us to the tower of Babel, where we assume we can build a staircase to heaven without being actually led by God. This project will always fail and fail miserably no matter how many times we invoke His name.
Reading the gospels we see that Jesus answered questions about what we should and shouldn’t do in really unexpected ways; by making extravagant demands, by going to the heart of motivations, by dodging some questions entirely. Clearly questions about what is right and wrong, what the meaning and purpose of our lives are, are meant to drive us to the person of Jesus in that humble surrender we call faith. It is only with the heart of a child that we can hear Jesus and obey Him, and actually grow in love. Without Him, we will find a way to do what is wrong, to apply good laws in evil ways that will cause pain and suffering to ourselves and others.
Jesus told us in Matthew that the first and greatest commandment is to love God, and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. How is it that people of both sides say and do terrible things in the name of love of others, and in the name of the love of God? It is this pride, and the attendant fear (it’s all up to me and if others thwart me, then it is all over) that destroys the best intentions of all and turns us on one another in the basest and most destructive hypocrisy.
Let’s pray together and repent of this pride; pray instead for the hearts of children who are deeply rooted in His love. Only in this way will we ever become part of His kingdom. God does desire justice on this earth, God desires to right what is wrong, to free us from the evil of others and the evil in our own hearts through confession, repentance, forgiveness, love. It is not your ability to force other people or yourself to abide by a list of laws, even the “law” of love that will save us. Only in willingness to give up control and live in trust can you hear from Jesus daily, live deeply rooted in Jesus, and be safe from the poisonous scourge of hatred, pride, and fear which threatens to make hypocrites and empty shells of us all. Only as we live in a posture of receiving from Jesus, like children, will Jesus change and save your heart, and change and save the world.