Understanding Our Church

A Treasury of Arkansas Writers Discussing the Catholic Faith

Law exists not only to protect but to teach love, selfless consideration

Published: October 4, 2003

By Dr. Linda Webster

We are a society awash in rules. We often buckle up when driving, not because it’s safer but because we might get ticketed. We try to pay our taxes on time to avoid penalties and prosecution. And, while we might chafe at the intrusion, we generally understand these rules have a purpose — they keep us intact as a society and insist we think of others.

With the readings in this portion of the liturgical year focusing on rules, laws, consequences and admonitions, our faith seems seasonally mired in punishments and anger, misinterpretation and calamity. Over the past few weeks, we’ve read about misery, millstones, divorce and those pesky seraph serpents burning the besieged Israelites tired of dining on manna.

The point of all these rules and their consequences is quite simple. Our relationship with God and our relationships with others are directly affected by our desire to follow his rules. And, the way we follow and interpret these rules reveals quite a bit about ourselves and how we view our relationships. For example, driving without a seatbelt is not only illegal, but also the emotional and financial cost to those who might have to deal with any resulting injury to the driver changes relationships.

In the event of an accident, family members must adjust to expenses, therapy, job loss, and a host of other issues only because the driver was thinking of his own relationship to the law instead of his relationship to others. In a Wisdom reading where the wicked are planning to do in the just man, we can see the relationship between God and those who are wicked has ruptured.

The wicked want only to find out how much trouble they might cause with their violations of the law; they don’t see the law exists to encourage positive relationships between God and man and man and man. Since the wicked are focused only on themselves and their anger, the just man makes them uncomfortable when he is in relationship with God and observant of the laws. Relationships are living, growing entities.

Relationships depend on mutual need and mutual respect of the two people involved. A long-term, healthy, deepening relationship is defined by the amount of self-disclosure between two people, a deeper understanding of one another and greater trust between them. In the “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” we are reminded divine and natural law is rooted in both the desire for God and the understanding we are equal to one another. (1955)

One who violates these rules is disclosing his disregard for others and his unwillingness to engage in trusting relationships. Rules — especially the Decalogue — provide simple guidelines for maintaining these relationships but in no way substitute for relationship. Following all of the rules as one’s only faith practice is not a healthy way to approach a relationship with God.

Instead, we are asked to reach out to one another; to form relationships and share our collective wisdom in living lives within the guidelines he has provided for us; and to deepen our relationship with him through the continuing observance of these laws. Wearing a seatbelt to avoid a traffic citation may indirectly preserve the relationships in one’s life, but using the seatbelt because of the love and affection one has for the people in one’s life is a closer approximation of the value of God’s law in our lives.