Saturday, March 23, 2013

Law As Freedom: Fitting With The Grain Of The Universe

When you think of rules and law, you typically don't think about freedom and love with them. That's partly why many see the Bible as a repressive and somewhat arbitrary list of do's and don'ts. Many see being a Christian then, as following these rules whether one wants to or not.

But what if the commands of God were actually life giving? What if when God created the universe, he intended a certain beautiful design that, if conformed to by humanity, led to great flourishing and deep fulfillment? That is exactly what James K.A. Smith is saying in his excellent book, Desiring the Kingdom. He says:
"...the giving of commandments is an expression of love; the commandments are given as guardrails that encourage us to act in ways that are consistent with the 'grain of the universe,' so to speak. They are the means by which God invites and encourages us to find abundance and flourishing."
God's standards for us help us match up with the grain of the universe. They are for our good, not for suppressing us. But our modern understanding fights against the reality. Smith goes on to say:
"The secular liturgies of late modern culture are bent on forming in us a notion of autonomy--a sense that we are a law unto ourselves and that we are only properly 'free' when we can choose our own ends, determine our own telos. Since it's early beginnings, Charles Taylor notes, modernity has been marked by a rejection of teleology, a rejection of the notion that there is a specified, normative end (telos) to which humanity ought to be directed in order to enjoy the good life. And this rejection was driven by a new notion of 'libertarian' freedom, which identified freedom with freedom of choice."
Smith concludes with a picture of true freedom, rightly ordered desires in conformity to how God designed the universe to be. He explains:
"In contrast, right here in Christian worship we see a very different understanding of the good: humanity and all of creation flourish when they are rightly ordered to a telos that is not of their own choosing but rather is stipulated by God. Creation is created for something, for a particular end envisioned by the Creator...The reading of the law is a displacement of our own wants and desires, reminding us that we find ourselves in a world not of our own making--which is why all our attempts to remake it as we want (as if we ourselves could be little creators) are not only doomed to failure; they are also doomed to exacerbate suffering. The announcement of the law reminds us that we inhabit not 'nature,' but creation, fashioned by a Creator, and that there is a certain grain to the universe--grooves and tracks and norms that are part of the fabric of the world. And all of creation flourishes best when our communities and relationships run with the grain of those grooves. Indeed, the biblical vision of human flourishing implicit in worship means that we are only properly free when our desires are rightly ordered, when they are bounded and directed to the end that constitutes our good. That is why the law, though it comes as a scandalous challenge to the modern desire for autonomy, is actually an invitation to be freed from a-teleological wandering. It is an invitation to find the good life by welcoming the boundaries of law that guide us into the grooves that constitute the grain of the universe and are conducive to flourishing."
I invite you to think about the law in such a way. Yes the law points to our need for a Savior, because of our inability to fulfill the law's demands. But the law is also a good thing in and of itself, a loving blueprint for what God intends for a thriving new humanity.