This one may bounce around, so hang with me.
There is a verse that I always found curious:
“And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.” (Matthew 24:12)
We are a land of laws. There are so many laws you probably broke several today and did not even realize it. Did you know in most states it is illegal to gather rainwater for personal use? Did you know it is illegal in most places to sell raw milk? I’m sure most of us have seen those funny books filled with ridiculous archaic laws like “do not carry an ice cream cone in your back pocket” and “do not walk your donkey down the street on Sunday.”
In fact, as a Libertarian, I think we have far too many laws. Nobody can tell us how many there are but, according to the most recent available information, our federal laws alone fill up 55,000 pages. That isn’t including the hundreds of thousands of local town and state laws we all live under. Lawlessness? I think a dystopic future of a sterile world absolutely crippled by laws is much more realistic. Think Orwell’s 1984 or the priests of the Temples of Syrinx from Rush’s 2112 album. That’s where we’re headed.
Well, maybe lawlessness means things will go sour because we are breaking the law. Crime is down. Murder is down. Violent attacks are down. The world breaking down into anarchy does not seem likely as the governments would simply respond with a show of overwhelming force. Look at the recent Boston manhunt to see how our government would respond if we all simply stopped following laws. And why would it make the love of many grow cold? If I speed I’m breaking the law but I still love my fellow man. Does pirating music make you hate? Does cheating on your taxes turn you loveless? Something doesn’t add up.
The answer becomes apparent if you consider an alternate translation of a single phrase:
“And because of increased distance from Torah, the love of many will grow cold.” (That is my paraphrase of Dr. Stern’s The Complete Jewish Bible translation of the New Testament.)
Ahh, well … now it becomes apparent. It isn’t distance from man’s law that causes our love to grow cold. It’s distance from Yahweh’s law. The Torah, the first five books of the Bible, the books of Moshe … 613 commandments (traditonally speaking) that gives guidance in every facet of life. When asked what the greatest commandment was, Messiah responds “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, and mind. And the second is equally as important: love your neighbor as yourself. Upon these two commandments pivot the entire Torah and the prophets.” So, distance from Torah causes our love to grow cold because the Torah, itself, teaches us to love.
Well, how far from Torah are we? We are told, repeatedly that America is a “Christian” nation (even though it clearly isn’t) and that our government was founded on Judeo-Christian principles (partially true). So, our nation should be pretty damn close, eh? You may be surprised at how wrong that is.
The Torah has never been important in America because Christianity operates on the false assumption that Messiah’s sacrifice rendered the first two-thirds of the Bible null. Nevermind the “I came not to abolish the Torah” and “neither a jot or tittle will disappear from the Torah” and all of that. We live by grace, baby! And that means we don’t have to actually do anything!
Hmm, that seems to contradicts Messiah’s words that our love will grow cold the further away from Torah we drift. “Nonsense!” you say. “I have the love of Jesus in my heart!” That may be true and I don’t dare call that into question. I am simply saying that society as a whole suffers because we have abandoned the foundation of God’s love for us. He gave us the Torah because it is fair. He gave us the Torah because it is just. He gave us the Torah because it is the path to happiness and a life of fullness. Without it, we are like reeds swaying in the wind. We are hollow.
Am I saying that following the Torah is necessary for salvation? God forbid I say such a blasphemous thing. Salvation is God’s free gift to us, given to all who will take it and manifested by our faith in His sacrifice. There is nothing we can do to earn it or merit it and anyone who tells you otherwise speaks lies. But, as the singer Rich Mullins once sang, faith without works is like a screen door on a submarine. You’re sinking fast.
You’ve probably heard me say that I think most Christians are simply Biblically illiterate. I believe that and stand by it. How little do most know about the Bible? Well, consider the fact that gay marriage is one of the most hotly debated issues in the world today. Evangelicals and fundamentalists will (correctly) tell you that homosexuality is listed as an ABOMINATION is the Bible. ABOMINATION (in all-caps, no less!) is a big, scary word! And, as well all know, an ABOMINATION is the worst of the worst! Those are the things God hates most! We would never, ever, ever commit an ABOMINATION. Only the really bad people do that!!
Have you ever stopped to look at what is considered an abomination? (Take a big breath …)
eating four-legged insects
bringing money you made by being a whore into the House of the Lord
dishonest weights and measures
lending money and requiring interest back
a perverse mind
shedding innocent blood
And that isn’t even an exhaustive list. Sure, we’ll all point our fingers at homosexuals (mainly because, rather than trying to teach people to live Godly lifestyles, we’re really just using the Bible to reinforce our own prejudices) but we never stop to consider the fact that the entire crony capitalist system we live under is an abomination. Do we love money? Are we arrogant at times? Do we lie? Of course we do. And we’re all abominable. But our love grows cold and we use the Bible as a weapon against others instead of turning its light inward to illuminate our own shortcomings.
The Torah does not exist so I can tell other people how to live. The Torah exists so I know how to live. I see my own shortcomings and that is a very humbling thing. That, in turn, makes me more gracious to others and more likely to overlook their shortcomings. Love abounds. Using the Bible as a weapon against others while not holding ourselves to the same standard breeds arrogance and pride. That is where most of the Church sits today … all because of increased distance from Torah.