2. Commands, Laws, & Principles
As mentioned in the Foreword, there are three elements by which any society can govern its people. These are Commands, Laws, and
Before considering these, think of this. In every family, there are rules. The rules are based on beliefs or values and must from time to time be enforced by the head of the family telling someone what to do. In other words, every family applies these same elements in keeping peace in the family.
For example, a father makes a rule that the chores must be done before his children can go out to play. There is a penalty for non-compliance—loss of allowance. His son is charged with taking out the trash every day. One day, his son does not do so and goes to a ball game straight from school with his buddies. On getting home from work, the father, tired from a long day, goes to throw away a soda can only to find the trash can in the kitchen overflowing. When the son gets home, the father informs him that he has lost his allowance for the week and the son argues this is unreasonable. But is it?
First, we must state that the rule (law of the home) dictates the loss of the allowance (penalty for breaking the law). But what if the son counters that his mother told him not to worry about the trash for had he come home, he would have not had a ride to this important All-Star play-off his best friend was playing in. Does this change the situation?
In most cases, we would say yes, for he did receive authorization from one with the authority to give it.
But to understand whether this is really the case or not, we must understand what the intent of the rule was. If the intent was to keep the trash cleared so that the father would not have to come home from work and find an overflow, he might decide that asking the mother did not provide a valid excuse. If however, the intent was to teach the boy responsibility, then the infraction would likely be permitted as he did the responsible thing in getting pre-authorization for the action.
So the intent, or spirit, of the rule (law) plays a role in whether there has been a violation or not.
The purpose of laws are to maintain order according to the principles or governing values of the family, organization, or social unit.
Now, when the boy got home, his father may have also told him to immediately take the trash out. This would be a command and there are times when commands are necessary.
For instance, when a child is too young to understand why something should be done or even obey rules, such as at the age of two, commands can serve to keep the child safe. I know I have to command my child, who is 18 months, a thousand times a day. And rules would make no difference for he is too young to follow rules. I do tell him rules, but his attention span is not yet developed to the point where he can reasonably comply. This is just part of the nature of child development and I have no choice but to work within those natural confines.
However, as he grows, I can put in place rules (laws) and penalties for breaking these. Because I understand the values or beliefs upon which I base these laws, I can decide whether there has been an infraction or not depending on the situation.
In time, as he grows and breaks rules, I can take the opportunity to explain to him why there was or was not a violation and in time, he can begin to understand the principles upon which the rule of law is formed. Over time, the parent does not need to have as many laws for the child learns why certain things are so and fewer laws are needed. The child learns the principles, the spirit of the laws, and can eventually make his own decisions.
In the Bible, this is known as disciplining (the Hebrew word rendered discipline literally means “to teach”) a child and it never ceases to amaze me how many religious people miss this, choosing instead to simply punish. Punishing without explaining does not teach a child anything but simple obedience. This is not fitting for humans, for even a dog can learn simple obedience.
Along these veins, it is interesting to note that the Bible has two constitutions. Constitutions?
That is right. A Testament is a contract. One definition for Constitution is contract. Hence, the Old Testament is the Old Contract and the New Testament is the New Contract—or Constitution. Seen from this perspective, these two features take on new meaning for our discussion. Why?
Because the first contract provided hundreds of very specific laws, as if God were dealing with his people as a Father would deal with children. Over time therefore, as they matured, it would be possible to provide them with the principles upon which the laws were built and there would be less need for an extensive law code. Is this what happened?
Jeremiah 31:31 predicted the day when God would write his law, ‘not on stone tablets, but on hearts.’ Paul stated that Christ came to “fulfill” the law and in reading the New Testament (or Contract) what one notices quickly is that there are fewer laws. This makes sense, for God’s people were maturing as far as his purpose was concerned.
I do not bring these matters up to try to preach to anyone or convert or anything of the sort. Rather, I bring this up as an example for it well-illustrates the direction that laws should take in society. Indeed, a society that is mature in their understanding of the principles upon which laws are founded needs fewer laws. A mark of the maturity of a society rests in how many laws must be created to govern their activity. The fewer the laws, the more mature and wise the society and the greater the number of laws, the less mature.
As citizens, we in America are not very mature for we continue to “need” more laws, when we should be learning how to apply the principles upon which the laws are established—we should be learning the spirit of the laws.
The fact is that in America today, we already have over 14,000 gun laws on the books in the several States and Federal Government. The only reason we would need more is if we are becoming less mature, rather than more.
Hence, to settle this issue of gun control versus gun rights, we need to understand the intent of the principles upon which Congress passes laws. To be sure, there are times when laws are necessary and our Founding Fathers understood this, which is why they created the Constitution the way they did. But we should not need to create so many laws that no one, not even a lawyer, can know and follow them all. This is counter-productive and contrary to the spirit of the laws—the guiding principles.
In addition, we should consider not just the underlying principle of the 2nd Amendment, but really the whole of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, for these are interconnected and contain principles that must be weighed against other principles if these are to be effective in maintaining order in society.