by Nestor Ravilas
JUSTIFIED LIFE – It is interesting to note how the law was demeaned particularly in the Book of Galatians. The law is a failure; it neither delivers righteousness nor justification, it says. To count on the law then in attaining the two is to flirt with failure if not with disaster. This makes me wonder then on the original functions of the law. If the law is useless especially in delivering the best things in this life, why it was given in the first place? And why the entire world, or the Israelites, to make my argument more specific, left for a very long period of time under the tutelage of the law if, after all, it could not bring them any good? Was the law, from the very beginning of its promulgation, was given only to fail so as to pave way for the coming of a much better solution? Or the law, after giving enough time to carry out its alleged purpose perceived later to be failing thus a new paradigm has to supplant, or maybe assist it, so as to arrest further escalation of trouble? In both conjectures, the law was seen as failing – failing particularly to deliver its alleged purpose. But what were those things that the law fails to deliver? – justification, righteousness, qualification to promise, a promise of ethereal salvation?
One would ask if those things mentioned above were originally expected corollaries on the giving and subscribing to the law. Was there any incident where in the people was exhorted that the law particularly was given to make them “justified”; or they were sternly reminded, that all of the stipulations there have to be observed and obeyed to the letters at all times to ensure this “justification” thing? Failing to observe then even one of the enjoinments written there would automatically mar your record and would cause your qualification from any reward promised to those who will be found “justified”. Within this condition therefore, since there are so many stipulations under it and the probability of violating one or two is great, it deems to be incapable to deliver justification, as the word specifically defined in the Book of Galatians. But none of these things mentioned was ever referred to as essential reasons of the giving of the law.
If I may suggest, sociologically,the giving of the law could be seen as an overture for nation building. The Hebrews were at the threshold of building a community/nation in a specific location given to them by God himself. They were brought out of ignominious slavery and were led, not on each separate way, but in a path of living together as one people or community of God. God’s plan for Israel in saving them was not to scatter them out in the dessert, but to bring them in a greener pasture where they would settle down as social entity. The law or laws came to express the divine will, the divine wishes on how this socialization must proceed. It is, first and foremost, to facilitate,mediate and govern the making of a community.
There is enough reason to facilitate socialization by external forces such as laws and policies. To build a community is to exist with neighbors; to include others within the interiority of our enclosed-self. The law was primarily given to present the“other” from the view of the self in order to recognize the “other”. It is given in order to facilitate the opening of the enclosed-self so as to welcome mutual recognition and responsibility. The command “thou shall not kill,” more than anything else, is to present the other as an ethical limit to my pursuant of personal pleasure. The“other”, donned with the image of God, standing before me is sovereign than my ego. None therefore should be sacrificed in the altar of my insatiable yearning for self satisfaction – the “other” as neighbor therefore must be loved the way one naturally loves oneself.
The law however failed, and I agree with such conjecture. Looking at the history of Israel, with all the history of abuse by those in power, the odious exploitation of the weaker “others”, the downside trajectory of the monarchy from the division of the nation into two kingdoms and the eventful collapse of one kingdom after the other and the whole drama of dismal dive to perdition culminated into the separation from the land of the Israelites is enough to convince anyone that indeed the law failed. It fails urging the people to prioritize socialization. It fails convincing people to widen their horizon of the self into a communal span. It fails to compel everyone to stop consuming the “other” for personal satisfaction. If indeed the law has something to do with such notion as justification, it fails to justify one’s responsibility in building a community. A justified life is a life with other’s concerns and betterment is within the self’s primary consideration. That is the essence of the command “thou shall not kill”, “Thou shall not covet”, and all stipulations under the Decalogue which is basically bringing to our consciousness that a justified life is bringing justice to the “other.”
I may err on this but I am willing to bet everything to vouch this: infringement of any of the stipulations in the law is not primarily against God, but a violation against the aim of those laws to build a community. God has nothing to ask from us to make him complete. That is the true essence of his command to Peter – “If you love me don’t think of anything you could do to me, I need nothing. Instead, go and feed my people. That’s the way of loving me.” The law was given to usher the journey of the community into shalom – the communal existence within the peace and prosperity of God. To subscribe to the law, to observe the law, to obey it, is to love our neighbors as how we love ourselves. To strike the “other” is to disrupt peace and jeopardize the bond of community. I would say that the exile is not primarily God’s punishment to the sinning Israel. It was a grimy consequence of their blatant violations of the “other”. Don’t expect a house to stand storms and waves when each one kills, steals, and covets each other. It is better to see it that way, putting entirely the blame on us than to a punishing God, in order that each of us will be justified by way we try to escape the tightly-closed“self” and go out totally in promoting community making. Other than this, no one could have a justified existence!