The Bridge Beyond
Many years ago, at a regular session of the now-defunct Creation Research Seminar, an invited guest reported that he had found dinosaur tracks in a stream bed somewhere in the southwestern United States. He even had plaster reproductions of the fossilized dinosaur tracks on display. Still more astounding was the speaker’s inference that he had found human footprints among the dinosaur tracks. Evidently, some hominid had been chasing the dinosaurs, or the dinosaurs had been pursuing the hominid. In any case, we were startled to learn of the supposed coexistence of these fossil tracks. Unfortunately, our guest had either forgotten or was unable to bring plaster models of the human footprints with him. At that point all we supposedly knew for sure was that the dinosaurs had become extinct, while the hominids (man) had survived.
While the preceding claim of coexisting dinosaurs and man was fallacious, it is true that, like all other animals today, man (male and female) has survived as an animal governed by animal instincts. These instincts include a sense of territoriality. Every animal lays claim to a certain portion of the surrounding environment. Within the boundaries of its territory, every animal seeks to fulfill its needs for air, water, food, shelter, offspring, and protection against elements and enemies. Like all other animals, man is a territorial animal.
Man and the Emerging Rule of Law
Yet man is no ordinary animal. For thousands of years, he also was governed by superior instincts that we now call “god-consciousness.”1 The universal, hallucinatory images of god that man apparently heard and saw guided him in a number of startling ways. Mankind became aware of earth, sea, sky, time and seasons, life and death. God-conscious man began to explore and migrate to the far reaches of the earth. He began to fashion tools of stone, wood, bone and metal. He invented the sail, lever, wheel and inclined plane. He began to communicate with his fellow man through language. Words were the symbols or metaphors of reality. These metaphors, in turn, enabled mankind to become self-conscious.
Around the second millennium BCE (before the common era), man began to lose his universal god-consciousness.2 As this guiding gift disappeared, man desperately tried to preserve its benefits. Those who still retained god-consciousness were installed as kings, priests, shamans or witch doctors. Also, with the invention of writing, the instructions of the gods were recorded and preserved for the benefit of present and future generations. Moreover, the instructions of the gods were codified as laws, and these laws were employed to establish relationships and to place limitations on those relationships. For example, mankind was admonished to honor others and to refrain from lying to others, stealing from others, and coveting the relationships of others.
As man emerged from his earlier instinctual god-consciousness to self-consciousness, he also acquired further gifts. One such gift was “conscience” — “the faculty of recognizing the distinction between right and wrong in regard to one’s own conduct.”3 Another gift was volition — the will to obey or disobey law. Still another gift was the ability to actually obey, disregard or openly defy law. Therefore, with these gifts came an initial measure of freedom, and with such freedom came corresponding responsibility. With the emergence of cultural and moral laws, man had indeed moved to a new plateau of existence. The rule of law for mankind has now reigned for nearly 4,000 years.
The Inadequacies of Law
While law has brought a measure of stability to man, he has increasingly chafed under its rule. There are reasons for this frustration.
1. Law has not fulfilled all of man’s necessities. For example, despite the rule of law, man is still subject to death. Law cannot effect the death of death. It cannot grant man unending life.
2. Law cannot fulfill or resolve all of mankind’s imaginative fantasies. Man is capable of infinite fantasy. He can imagine himself anywhere, at any time, engaged in anything. However, he cannot actively translate these fantasies into reality. Furthermore, man knows that to limit himself to a fantasy world is to live a life of psychosis — apart from reality.
3. Law cannot satisfy man’s sense of infinite dependence.4 Man’s unlimited dependence requires the existence of God. The intervention of unfeeling, unresponsive law cannot supply that requirement.
4. Man has a boundless drive for freedom and responsibility. Yet law invariably intervenes to frustrate his grasp for freedom’s necessity.
5. Man recognizes that law is granted to establish relationship. At the same time, man knows that law often has been distorted to exclude and destroy those relationships that enable man to be man. Law has therefore become a double-edged sword. Granted to protect man, it also has become a weapon to destroy him.
6. Man has an unfulfilled longing for understanding, meaning, purpose and value in his existence. Yet the rule of law is helpless to fulfill these fundamental needs.
7. Man yearns to be and to become a person in relationship with his world, with his others, and with his God. Law is incapable of successfully commanding or fulfilling this fundamental desire.
History has therefore disclosed multiple inadequacies of law and its rule. As a result, today we live in an increasingly divided world. It is a world divided between those who would “deconstruct” (destroy) law and those who would “reconstruct” (restore) law. We are, in fact, witnessing the fulfillment of 500 years of sustained conflict over law.
Attempts to Transcend Law
The Dutch Catholic scholar, Desiderius Erasmus (1466?-1536), recognized the importance of law. He also recognized that the rule of law requires the free will of man to obey that law and reap its benefits or to disobey that law and face its retribution. The German reformer, Martin Luther, was opposed to Erasmus’ claim for the freedom of man’s will. Luther therefore wrote a powerful thesis entitled The Bondage of the Will. While it has long been assumed that Luther was attacking the Catholic Church, the reformer actually was probing deeper. He was determined to show that man could not decide his destiny through willing obedience or disobedience to law. In the aftermath of this encounter, the Protestant Reformation attempted to develop other options to the rule of law.5
The French reformer and theologian, John Calvin (1509-1564), declared that human existence and destiny were predetermined by God himself before Creation and that nothing man could do or not do would alter these predetermined facts. The doctrine of predestination was therefore designed to supersede both free will and the rule of law. Some members of mankind were predestined to obey and live, while others were predestined to disobey and die. However, this doctrine excluded both human freedom and human responsibility as well as all other attributes potentially associated with true human personhood. In this climate it is not surprising that Calvin himself became a vicious and tyrannical bigot. For example, when Michael Servetus (1511-1553), the Spanish scholar and scientist,6 passed through Geneva, where Calvin had his headquarters, the reformer had Servetus arrested, imprisoned and ultimately burned at the stake as a heretic. Servetus made the mistake of believing that Jesus Christ was the Son of the eternal God, while Calvin claimed that Jesus was the eternal Son of God. On the fateful day of the execution, it is said that Calvin sat impassively at his desk, laboring over his voluminous writings, while Servetus stood bound at the stake with the flames leaping around him, consuming his body. With his dying breath Servetus cried out, “Oh thou Son of the eternal God, have mercy upon me!”
While Luther did not claim that predestination superseded the rule of law, he determined to show that “faith alone” stood above law. For those who did not possess or exercise faith as he did, Luther hurled condemnation, whether Turk, Catholic, Jew or Anabaptist.
In the midst of the religious fervor and terror that denied any vestige of freedom to man’s will, humanism emerged. Humanism declared that man transcends the rule of law by his own autonomous thought, will and reason. For example, René Descartes (1596-1650), the French philosopher and mathematician, declared “Cogito, ergo sum” — “I think, therefore I am.”7 The exaltation of thought and reason, known as rationalism, therefore attempted to surmount the limitations of law. The harvest of rationalism was first witnessed in the exaltation of the goddess of reason, the subsequent Reign of Terror, and the excesses of the French Revolution. Eventually, rationalism was superseded by romanticism. The so-called Romantics declared, “I feel, therefore I am.”8 Pleasures and emotions were declared to supersede both reason and law. Not long afterward, the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814) advocated the pleasures of sexual violence, leaving us with the crazed and criminal consequences of sadism.9 Later, Karl Marx appeared on the scene, contending that labor and the product of labor alone superseded existing law. Marx’s dialectical materialism was shortly adopted by Russian terrorists and translated into the now-deceased Soviet communism — but only after imposing death on tens of millions of its own people as well as threatening all mankind. Along the path of history, other ideologies have attempted to supersede the role and rule of law — existentialism (I am, therefore I can do whatever I choose), positivism (I hear, see, smell, touch, taste; therefore I am) and nihilism (nothing is real, nothing matters; therefore I can be and do whatever I please).10
Now, as we stand on the ashes of ideologies that have sought to replace or discard law, we see a revival of “reconstructionism” and a determined effort to again make law and the rule of law transcendent. It appears that man cannot live with law, and he cannot live without it.
At one time an administrative colleague and friend called me to his office, telling me that he had received an invitation to welcome the delegates to a national meeting of professional students. The scheduled speakers included the president of a well-known university academic health center, the president of a national professional society, and the incoming president of a state professional society. The atmosphere was tense. One of the speakers intended to advocate cooperation and interaction among the health professions. At the same session another speaker planned to advocate total autonomy and separation among the health professions. Just before the meeting convened, my friend was beckoned aside by the speaker who advocated separation and “reconstruction” of the health professions under autonomous law. The speaker solemnly declared that the forthcoming meeting had long been foretold by the biblical prophets — indeed, that on that very evening the book of Daniel would finally be fulfilled. My friend tried to look impressed but, ignoring the solemn warning, used his welcoming speech to call for a new spirit of cooperation, collaboration and compassion among the professions and professionals. Later, my administrative friend related that the historic significance of that meeting and its fulfillment of scriptural prophecy had entirely escaped the student audience. As soon as the meeting adjourned, the students all raced out of the meeting hall for a “night on the town.”
This incident illustrates that our current situation is both alarming and humorous. Man cannot live without law, and he cannot live beyond law. All of man’s imaginative efforts to transcend law and thus achieve full human personhood — with its meaning, purpose, value, freedom, life, fulfillment and fellowship — have been thwarted. Today we are confronted with conflicting ideologies determined either to reinstate law as the sole basis for continuing existence or to replace law by some other imagined authority.
The Risen Christ as the Only Bridge beyond Law
At such a time as this, how can we persistently ignore the reality of the Risen Christ and his mediatorial11 presence? Will the race of mankind have to encounter annihilation before it recognizes the millennial answer of Christ’s resurrection to man’s lack of personal fulfillment? Law has sufficed for a mankind destined to die. However, law does not suffice for a mankind destined to live. The Risen One is not calling for the abolition of law. Rather, the living Christ is simply offering us a destined existence that transcends law — an existence defined by attributes that law cannot define and to which it cannot reach. This existence is only possible by Christ’s own presence and the mediation of his own attributes of personhood — life, love, freedom, responsibility, value, meaning, purpose, fulfillment and creativity. Let us therefore truly acknowledge his resurrection, his mediation, his transformative presence. For the ever-present, living Christ is the only bridge beyond law to the fulfillment of transcendent human personhood.
- See Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Boston; Houghton Mifflin Co., 1990). (go back)
- See ibid. (go back)
- See John Carroll, Humanism: The Wreck of Western Culture (London: HarperCollins, 1993), p. 128: “Conscience is impossible without free-will.” See also American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, s.v. “conscience.” (go back)
- See Wolfhart Pannenberg, What ls Man? Contemporary Anthropology in Theological Perspective (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1970), p. 10. (go back)
- See Carroll, Humanism, pp. 47-63. (go back)
- Michael Servetus was the first to discover the pulmonary circulation of the blood. (go back)
- See Carroll, Humanism, pp. 118-121. (go back)
- See ibid., pp. 124-130. (go back)
- See ibid., p. 123. (go back)
- See Carroll, Humanism; American Heritage Dictionary, s.v. “conscience.” (go back)
- Rather than a nonrelational, immediate presence, in which we absorb the Transcendent (“God in us”) or are absorbed by the Transcendent (“us in God”), the evidence indicates that the Risen Christ mediates his presence with us in history. That is, he reaches us through our neighbors. We reach him through each other. We reach each other and our own objective selves through him. This relational “reaching” may therefore be referred to as Christ’s “intermediatorial” presence, which is defined by the gifts of faith, hope and compassionate love. See “The End of Human Alienation,” subhead “The True Resolution of Human Alienation,” Outlook (Prequel 1994.7). (go back)
This article was originally published October 1995 under the Destiny imprint.