Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Commands of God: Ought implies Can

I was reading today in Psalms, and I came across this verse:
Psalm 119:70
"Their heart is as fat as grease, But I delight in Your law."

Now, I'm not entirely sure what the greasy heart bit is about, but I really like the second part of that verse. It really means something to me. I really do love the law of God. A lot of people see the law as a kindof burden, or a long list of "shoulds" that we all really should be living up. It's what casts a shadow over their life, and if you remind them of a particular law of God that perhaps they are not acting according to, they are annoyed. And they seem to feel that "Yes, of course, in a perfect world, I SHOULD be doing x and such, but no one is perfect, and you need to cut people some slack." Now, while I am sympathetic to that position, I don't feel that studying the laws of God is the opposite of cutting people slack, I don't think that the laws are there to make us all feel bad about ourselves. I see God's laws as showing us how life show be - the better and more enjoyable and more awesome way for our life. Laws don't make our lives harder, but easier - it's all our stupid ways of trying to do stuff that makes our lives hard. I see the laws of God as beauty and safety and freedom! If I'm making a mistake, or not obeying the laws of God properly, I actually like to learn that I'm wrong. (I don't have time in this post to get into that, but perhaps in another blog)

God's laws are morally beautiful - they paint of a picture of loyalty, kindness, mercy, diligence, inititive, thoroughness, dependability, humor, passion, humility, joy, care, love, strength, and simply everything beautiful that makes life worthwhile. They are safe because not only do they demand that justice exists, but also demand that everyone should act without injustice toward anyone. And finally, to a christian like myself, laws imply the freedom to obey that law. For instance, the law "in everything give thanks" implies that in everything there is something awesome to be thankful for! And even beyond that, as a christian, God gives me the power not only to wish that I was more joyful and thankful, but also to actually BE that way. Now that is true freedom! There are so many things that people feel that somehow they should be able to do, but realistically can't do. I, on the other hand, feel very strongly that if there is a command to do something, then, through the power of Christ, I can do it!

Now this actually leads into a more central discussion, because while I would say that "ought implies can," "if we ought to do something, that implies that we can do it," and that God does not make unreasonable commands, others would say that God has no problem setting forward a standard of perfection that we are unable to satisfy. I would agree with that too, but only with the context of God's help. Let me explain.


First let me speak of the idea of implications, or presuppositions. If I say "my car is red," I imply that I have a car. If I say that your action is wrong, my presupposition is that there is such a thing as right and wrong. Secondly, let me speak of responsibility: if you read that word carefully, you will notice that it is very similar to the word "response." Common sense, furthermore, insists that someone cannot be held responsible for something, if they had no say in the matter, if they took no action, or had no response. I cannot hold my TV responsible for not working, because it is inanimate and cannot take any actions. I cannot justly hold Noah responsible for breaking the vase if Hope pushed him into it. However, if in response to Hope pushing him, Noah pushes Hope into the vase, I can justly hold him responsible for that. I cannot justly blame (blame is assigning of responsibility for something negative) a deaf child for not listening to what I say - they are incapable of hearing me.

People understand this, in general, but get their minds all tangled up in a knot when applying the same principles to understanding God. They would say that while we cannot justly blame a lame man, who is unable to walk, for not walking, they say that God can justly blame and condemn a man forever for being unable to respond to His command to repent. I have to strongly disagree with that point of view: I see no evidence in Scripture that God is unreasonable that way. (For to condemn someone for something they have no say in would be unjust) I see throughout Scripture the idea that God never allows people to be tempted beyond that which they are able to resist, that God doesn't want people to give in to sin, and provides a way of escape. 1 Corinthians 10:13.

God is a reasonable Being, and when He says "thou shalt not murder," He implies that we will have the possibility available to us of not murdering. Now let me add this very important point: I do not, by any means, claim that in and of ourselves, we have the power to obey God's commands. No, on the contrary, we can do nothing good except by the power and grace(help) of God. But, in all of God's commands, He makes a way so that we can obey it. Let me give a very notable example:

John 11:43-44 (New King James Version)
"Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with grave clothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.”

You'll notice very clearly the concept that "ought implies can." When Jesus came a command to a dead man to come forth, it was implies that when Jesus spoke that, the dead man was then able, in fact, to come forth. And this principle is based not on us, on our power - Lazarus was dead. Dead! In his own strength, of course, he had no power. It's about God, God's grace, God's help, God's reasonableness - When God gives a command, He gives what we need to be able to follow it. And that, my friend, is awesome and amazing! I delight in God's law not only because it's beautiful and awesome, but also because God gives me the power to actually follow it, which makes it all the more epic.

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