What Does the Handrail Say?
August 9, 2013 20 Comments
(Author’s note: I started this post immediately after I read Vascularity’s question, and before the torrent of comments about what The Law says about marriage, divorce, and polygyny. When that back-and-forth kicked into high gear I decided to let that play out before I put this online. If you dare to read it I think you’ll have a good understanding of why I think about The Law the way I do; which I believe keeps with ancient tradition.
If, instead, you take a gander at the wall of text and decide that such an endeavor is ridiculous: Then you’ll truly be picking up what I’m about to put down. That’s not a shot at the commenters as much as it is at mankind in general. This is what we unwittingly asked for when we ate the fruit. I can be as bad as the rest.)
A question in a comment on the previous thread:
I’ve been divorced twice. Is my second marriage in God’s eyes illegal? Am I permitted to get married a third time (not that I would). If my second marriage was sin, I presume I am forgiven. Any Christian clarification is appreciated.
I don’t have enough information to answer this question. To begin, I’d have to know a lot more about Vasc and his ex-wives.
- Was he Christian at the times?
- Were either of the wives?
- Are they or have they re-married?
- Were they married before they married Vasc?
- Why does he want to know?
- Many more…
St. Paul twice said, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful.” It’s my experience that to ask about the legality (the Law of God) of a thing is almost always to ask the wrong question. There are many ways to think about the Law. Here’s one of mine.
The Law is like a handrail along the path that we are to follow towards God. It certainly marks the path, but is not part of it. It is helpful to reach a goal, but not a goal in itself. It can be grasped, leaned upon, and aid you in standing back up if you fall, but it cannot actually move you along, or take you anywhere of its own power. In fact, it’s worth noting that a handrail can reliably be used to lead towards a thing, or away, and sometimes it is hard to tell the difference. Distance occludes our vision, and while we often look ahead to see The Law zigging south into a valley, we do not see it beyond that; zagging back north over the mountains. Who can make straight what He has made crooked?
It serves as a barrier, but only one of choice: It’s function is not to stop you from going where you want to go. Some people like to think of The Law as a fence. If we call it a fence, we would have no choice but to say it’s not a very good fence; because a fence that can be surmounted or subverted effectively ceases to be a fence…at least for whoever goes over or under it. A jumped handrail, though, continues to serve its intended purposes; even for the would-be escapist. In contrast to a fence: The handrail of The Law is fundamentally good however we interact with it; always ready to be of use in each of its intended capacities.
Lastly, we should note that the existence of the handrail of The Law is itself condemnation of the danger of our position and the weakness of our abilities. If we were on open ground there would be no need of a handrail. If we were surefooted, clear-eyed, and attentive the handrail would be superfluous. Its presence is proof that we are in need of salvation because we are bound for damnation.
Keeping these things in mind, let’s look at one of the laws that we Christians have decided is unnecessary for us: Clean and unclean animals.
(Stop lyin’. I saw you with that grilled bacon-wrapped shrimp.)
11 And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, These are the living things that you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth. 3 Whatever parts the hoof and is cloven-footed and chews the cud, among the animals, you may eat. 4 Nevertheless, among those that chew the cud or part the hoof, you shall not eat these: The camel, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. 5 And the rock badger, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. 6 And the hare, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. 7 And the pig, because it parts the hoof and is cloven-footed but does not chew the cud, is unclean to you. 8 You shall not eat any of their flesh, and you shall not touch their carcasses; they are unclean to you.
Why these animals? God’s people have never been totemists who believe the clean ones contain good spirits and the unclean one bad spirits. I have done no formal study on this, but it seems to me that even in these foods we find examples of how we should live. Cloven-hoofed animals are sure-footed, and another way to say “chews the cud” is “ruminate“.
Sure-footed and contemplative of God’s word is the goal; not strict legalism. Abraham had no Law. Those who live by faith regard the illumination of the trail that The Law surely provides, yet do not get stuck clinging to one part of it. No one can grasp the whole of The Law anymore than you can grab an entire handrail. It wasn’t meant to be, and we were not meant to.
So, at one place along the way polygyny is lawful, and in another it is not. In one tight climb divorce is not outside righteousness, but in an easy descent it is an abomination. It’s not a matter of “Is polygyny or divorce legal?” (all things are lawful for me…), but a matter of “Is it good for me?”.
Most men are remarkably ill-suited to answer those questions about themselves even if they “know” The Law; sometimes especially because they do! This is why we have the Church. Avail yourselves of It, brothers.