One of the difficult challenges of living in a humanistic, secular society is that there seems to be little or no understanding that we live in a “fallen” world. For the Church of course, the notion of a “fallen world” is an important tenet of our faith. The humanistic mindset acknowledges that human beings are “flawed” and that people make “mistakes” (they don’t sin). But man can improve. Man can overcome these things by obtaining a good education and a job that makes it possible to acquire a decent, fair standard of living and the necessary security in life to maintain that standard of living (affordable health care, life insurance, financial planning for the future. etc.). God and religion are “optional” in this world; people can improve and reach their “full potential” as human beings with or without God. In this world, man creates God in his own image.
As Orthodox Christians, the journey to becoming fully human is only realized in accepting the reality that God the Word became man. He did so to free us from the fallen reality that separated us from the Source of Life due to our self-will. In arrogance we presumed we could treat the “very good” gift of life and all creation as our own by worshipping the gifts rather than The One Who gave the gifts. Thus, we were expelled from Eden. This is expressed in the following important verses from Romans 1:18-24:
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.
“Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.“
All creation is subject to this fall. The fact that we have laws that govern our behavior is reflective of the fact that we don’t always do what we are supposed to do. So if abortion is deemed illegal, people will still get abortions; if possessing some or all guns illegal, people will still get a hold of some or all guns; if booze is made illegal, people will still make it, as we learned during the Prohibition era in the early 20th century. It seems as if the purpose of laws is not to stop behavior, but to minimize the likelihood it will happen. Laws are also needed to protect others from harm. So we have traffic laws regulating speed not because speeding will stop, but to provide a deterrent to speeding, as excessive speeding contributes to a greater likelihood that accidents will happen and that people will be hurt. The deterrent lies in the law being enforced with consequences. So whatever laws one advocates for would seem to be useless if such laws are passed but not enforced.
I would like to see Roe vs. Wade be overturned. I would like to see some guns made illegal for private citizens to possess. I wish the Supreme Court had recognized a same sex union as a civil union and not called it a marriage. But the legal/legislative/political process is insufficient to address the core issue. The real key is getting to a place where people internalize a law and write it in their hearts. Once that is the case, one won’t need a law from the government to discern what is right and wrong. The prophecy of Jeremiah expresses this thought much better than I can:
“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
This is what our work in the Church needs to be about. This is the necessary transformation about which I spoke in last week’s reflection. It is to have the law written in our hearts. Today this is the law of the New Covenant, sealed with our Lord’s Body and Blood and offered for the “life of the world.” As we embrace this reality rooted in the Church, whose head is Christ, we will be guided and led to all righteousness. As we learn to live by our Lord’s commandments — “If you love me you will obey my commandments” — they become embedded in us and we will no longer need to “trust in princes and sons of men in whom there is no salvation.”