Liberty Builds on Legalism

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One of my favorite things about the Theology of the Body (and Church teaching in general) is how it builds upon and gives deeper meaning to earlier teaching.  We talked in the last post about how the Theology of the Body takes us from simply having a list of rules we can’t break (legalism) to an even deeper understanding that makes us never even want to break those rules in the first place (liberty).

It’s similar with kids.  Parents might tell their 3 year old “Don’t put your hand near the stove!”  And often they give the child a spanking or something unpleasant so that they learn “Stove = bad.”  This is because we can’t reason with a 3 year old child and explain to them, “Listen, if you put your hand on the stove you can get very badly burned and hurt yourself.”  They simply don’t have the capacity yet to think in those terms.  They just know that Mommy and Daddy get really mad if I go near the stove.

As a child gets older, they begin to understand more.  They begin to see that Mommy and Daddy weren’t just being mean and giving a list of rules for the sake of having rules.  They were truly looking out for the well-being of their child in the only way the child could understand at the time.  And no longer do they have to say, “Don’t touch the stove!”  It’s no longer some rule that we can’t break.  Now we understand that we were not made to touch hot stoves and that doing so would negatively impact our life.

Such is the teaching of the Church.

In the Old Testament God gave us the 10 commandments.  These were essentially a list of rules, the majority of which were things not to do.  We were young in our faith and God knew that this is all we would be able to understand at that time.

Later, Jesus gives us the greatest commandment – to love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:27).  Was this a totally new commandment from the 10 commandments?  No.  On the contrary, it articulated the deeper meaning of the 10 commandments.  It basically said, “this is what I was trying to teach you when I gave you the 10 commandments.”

The mistake many make is they now think the 10 commandments are irrelevant or invalid.  They think they are free to move ahead with their own interpretations of what it means to simply love God and love your neighbor and ignore the context within which the greatest commandment was given – the context of explaining the 10 commandments.  These people miss the entire point.  A hot stove will still burn you!

God keeps giving us building blocks to continually stack up in order to more closely reach him.  These people want to start over at the bottom any time they get a new piece of information.  They are missing out on so much!

Not only does the greatest commandment include and re-emphasize the 10 commandments, it gives them a much deeper meaning and it gives us an ability to apply them to even more situations – not less.  We should no longer view the 10 commandments as rules we can’t break.  We should now never want to break them in the first place!

In a way the Theology of the Body is yet another step in our understanding.  First it was “do not commit adultery.”  Then it was “even when you lust in your heart you have committed adultery.”  Now the Theology of the Body shows us how we were actually made to participate in a relationship with God in which lust is entirely incompatible.

This is why Jesus gave us the Catholic Church.  It is the means by which we stack up all of this information, make sense out of it and take our next step up on that journey closer to God.  Any many times we need a little legalism first before we can understand the greater truth that sets us free.

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Blaise Alleyne November 23, 2008 at 12:23 am

Excellent analogy! I’m definitely going to use that.

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