Well, it finally happened. This morning, while running, a driver rolled through a stop sign, paying no attention to pedestrians, and hit me. Fortunately, I was able to react in time so that no damage was done (although I wouldn’t mind a good excuse to retire from running!). My response to her was a bit more passionate than my interaction with the driver last week who illegitimately parked in a spot reserved for those disabled. But my message to her was the same: There is a reason for rules. “Stop” means “to cease movement.” Further, the rule exists so that drivers will pay attention to what is going on around them. I have buried too many people who have needlessly died because of inconsiderate, self-centred, law-breaking drivers. “Stop” should be read, “Stop it!” Drivers are to exercise proper self-governance.
Well, enough of my venting. But I want to take this opportunity to follow up on last week’s article addressing the implicit hypocrisy of breaking “lesser” laws while at the same time lamenting the breaking of more “serious” laws. We should embrace “zero tolerance” concerning all violations of law. And as a society learns to major on the minors, then perhaps over time there will be less lawlessness to major on.
A related issue is the need for those entrusted with law enforcement to exercise a zero-tolerance approach to law-breaking. This will go a long way to a society characterised by law and order. Many years ago, New York City implemented such an approach and the results have been encouraging. As you head down Van Reenen’s Pass over the holidays, you may note that the KZN Traffic Department also practices this!
As a government faithfully applies all of its laws, it is generally true that fewer laws are required. Israel serves as an example. God gave that nation a mere 613 laws, and since many of these laws were also religious laws, the number of civil laws was actually quite small. And yet the nation enjoyed a healthy semblance of law and order. But this was not the whole story.
The key to law and order in a society is not merely legislation and subsequent law enforcement by the government. On the contrary, a society that is not practised in self-government will not enjoy law and order on a wider scale. We can gripe all we want about a lack of law and order, but a failure of justice in our land requires more than a just government. It requires a just governed. If we want a just government, one that will have appropriate zero tolerance towards crime, then we need to be a just people; we must exercise self-government with the same zero tolerance towards our own propensity to wrongdoing. Again, old covenant Israel serves as a case in point.
The reason that Israel required relatively few civil laws in order to maintain law and order was because God required His people to be properly self-governed. This is illustrated in several ways.
First, the case laws promoted self-government (see Exodus 21–24). The laws of restitution taught the children of Israel of their need to exercise self-control by emphasising that, if they did wrong, they would be held accountable. If they broke the law, they would be required to make material restitution. The laws concerning putting a fence around a pit or around their animals was one way God taught His people to take personal responsibility. Similarly, even laws prohibiting a daughter from whoredom taught fathers to exercise government in their home, for ultimately they were held accountable for their daughter’s virginity. This principle of self-government is seen over and over in Scripture.
One reason for the criminal chaos in our land is the failure to teach children their responsibility to exercise self-governance. Self-control is an apt synonym. This is a huge part of child-rearing. Children need to be taught the truth of Proverbs 25:28: “Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls.”
In spite of a booming security industry, the walls of our nation are seemingly nonexistent and our society is woefully broken down. Think about that the next time that you refuse to exercise self-control at a stop sign, or when you refuse to restrain yourself from a tasty morsel of defamation, or when you choose to have that extra glass of wine, or when you want to justify inflating your expense account, or when you are confronted with the opportunity to have another lustful look. All the laws in the world are of little value to one who will not be self-governed. At that point the only solution is enforcement of the sanctions of the law. And then it is too late to undo the damage that self-governance could have averted. Running over a runner and maiming her can’t be fixed with “I’m sorry.”
But we can’t leave the matter here, for the fundamental means of self-governance, which God prescribed for His people, is found in the law which sums up all laws; it is in fact the ultimate law concerning self-governance. God predicated all law upon the law of love for Him. God revealed, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5). Such worshipful devotion produces self-governance. It puts proper walls around our desires and around our sensibilities and around our choices. And, in the end, others are protected from us doing them wrong. When Jesus was asked which was the greatest law, He summed the whole law up by quoting this one and adding, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (see Matthew 22:34–40). Since love does no wrong to a neighbour (Romans 13:10), those who are so self-governed by this higher law will eventually make government’s job of enforcing laws much easier (Romans 13:1–9).
Of course, such self-government is easier exhorted than exemplified. But enter the gospel. The Bible tells us that we love God only because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). He demonstrated His love to us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Christ then rose from the dead for our justification, with the result that we are now accepted by God in Christ (Romans 4:25; Ephesians 1:6). This gospel truth provides all the motivation that we could possibly need to love God and to prove it by loving others. In other words, the Christian is motivated for a life of self-governance under the gospel governance of the Lord the Jesus Christ.
The gospel of God is always the answer. So let’s proclaim it, and let’s practise its implications, in every sphere of life. The resultant godly self-governance, over time, will make us more considerate of others, resulting in a more lawful society. And, hey, runners will be safer as well!