My Current Position on Natural Law

I have done many podcasts that involve a concept in theology and political/moral philosophy termed, “Natural Law”. From the vision cast from my first blog titled “purpose”, this entry will show the application of that vision. Natural law itself could be a great podcast in and of itself but I would like to get something in writing that describes my personal view on the subject currently before any more damage is done by the concept being present on my podcast.

How One Is Saved

As a Christian I believe that Jesus alone is the way the truth and the life (John 14:6) and that the Word of God alone is the conduit by which mankind can be saved. Jesus makes it clear that no one can come to the father except through him! I can back this up easily with scripture,

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.Romans 10:13-17

Paul clearly lays out here that faith, which is the way in which we receive grace by God (Ephesians 2:8), comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ which is the good news of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God and how the saints are to live is the point of the redemptive history of God which is contained in the holy scriptures. So revelation is the only way in which someone can be saved. Someone who has no one to preach to them are unable to reason or logically bring themselves to mentally ascend to the God of the universe Yahweh. It must be revealed by preaching or reading the word of God. It was a mystery hidden for ages and has now been revealed in Christ.

What Natural Law Is and Isn’t

A quick google search of Natural Law produces this result,

Natural law is a theory in ethics and philosophy that says that human beings possess intrinsic values that govern our reasoning and behavior. Natural law maintains that these rules of right and wrong are inherent in people and are not created by society or court judges.” -From Investopedia.com 1

Many philosophers and political theorists have maintained this position until recently. It was very popular during the enlightenment thought because human reason was elevated to virtual god status and worshipped itself. There are two ways to reach Natural Law theory. Either from scripture being rooted in revelation, or from human reason alone and the revealed scriptures just happen to align with the thinking. For the former, theologians can point to texts like this to support the claim that Natural Law is rooted in scripture and the words of God,

For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.Romans 2:14-16

Natural Law theorists that root themselves primarily in human reason and not by virtue of revealed scripture and being made in the image of God would reason like this.

“Natural law can be discovered by reason alone and applies to all people, while divine law can be discovered only through God’s special revelation and applies only to those to whom it is revealed and whom God specifically indicates are to be bound. Thus some seventeenth-century commentators, Locke included, held that not all of the 10 commandments, much less the rest of the Old Testament law, were binding on all people. The 10 commandments begin “Hear O Israel” and thus are only binding on the people to whom they were addressed (Works 6:37). As we will see below, even though Locke thought natural law could be known apart from special revelation, he saw no contradiction in God playing a part in the argument, so long as the relevant aspects of God’s character could be discovered by reason alone.” – Locke’s Political Philosophy, 20052

The bible would claim that reason alone cannot bring one to a comprehensive understanding of the Natural Law. I say this because in Romans 2:15, Paul clearly shows us that this law that is written on the hearts of gentiles (all humans other than the Jews), and that law will either accuse or excuse their actions. They can very well understand that some things are evil and wrong but they can never reach a full understanding of the Natural Law. Some societies reach a consensus based on reason that cannibalism is okay and some reach a consensus that it is not. However that same society that cannibalizes each other can understand that stealing is wrong while the society that does not cannibalize may permit theft. Our ability to reason has been severely altered by the fall. It is no longer what it once was before the fall. So, it seems clear to me that Natural Law only stretches so far based on the way one reasons in a certain society. The Natural Law theorist that roots it in the ability to reason well has departed from what is revealed in scripture because there is no category for reasoning well enough to understand the full law of God.

John Locke was a deist which means that his god is not imminent. He is far away and not acting in the world. He wound us up with reason to figure it out. The same is true of one of our founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, who famously ripped out all stories in his bible that contained miracles because these stories clearly show God acting imminently. They do not think God can interact with us in that way. Instead Thomas Jefferson only kept the parts of his bible that corresponded to things he could reason himself to.

So, the fundamental difference between the two paths to Natural Law is that one is rooted in scripture and one is in human reason, yet human reason plays a part in both. The question is where is the root for the Natural Law. I labor to say all this to argue that I am of the former of these two paths to Natural Law. I think our ability to reason has been greatly impacted by the fall and that we cannot fully reason ourselves to God himself or his law he has given us. We have some inkling of both the law and the fact that there is a God. Hence, Paul says this,

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, 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 foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. – Romans 1:19-23

These things can be clearly seen, but it is not enough to save them nor to inform their conduct to be holy and upright. Natural Law can only condemn persons rather than save them. Those salvific things can only be revealed by the Word of Christ when preached or read in space and time. This should cause us to greatly consider our lack of proclaiming the word of God and telling other of the word of Christ, the good news of the kingdom of God. Lets be faithful to this great word that God has given us.

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.Isaiah 55:11

Sources:

(1) – https://www.investopedia.com/terms/n/natural-law.asp#:~:text=Natural%20law%20is%20a%20theory,by%20society%20or%20court%20judges.

(2) – https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/locke-political/

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