When God’s Law Is Understood, It Is Liberating, Not Limiting

Psalm 119 is by far the longest of all the psalms. It is an extended meditation on the law of God and its value for our lives. It is an earnest prayer of praise to God, the law Lawgiver. In our human logic we often think of the law as a limitation on our freedom. Or we think of it as the means for punishment to those who do wrong. In psalm 119 we follow the psalmist as he meditates on the glory of God’s splendid laws and instructions.

The meditation is not only a prayer of praise and thanksgiving. It ranges over the spectrum of human concerns and emotions. The psalmist prays for protection from those who defy God’s law, who are enraged by those who remain faithful to it. He also laments the cost of remaining obedient to the law. He then delights in the consolation that comes from humbly obeying the law, even when it is difficult. In his humility he prays to God for the wisdom to understand his precepts. He even prays for the rewards that come for keeping them. He knows his need and his weaknesses. But he also knows the source of his consolation; God and his law.

God’s law, understood correctly, is liberating, rather than limiting. The fact is that, more often than not, it is our interpretation of God’s law that is the problem. Our biggest limitation is most often our own egos. Our egos blind us to the wisdom of God’s law because we hold in them an often distorted sense of the meaning of freedom. We think that freedom means that we are absolutely free from any outside limitations, that we alone are the arbiters of right and wrong, that no one, divine or human, can tell us what we can and cannot do. This is particularly true during our adolescent years. In those years we think that rebellion is the purest form of freedom. As a result, we are, more often than not, “rebels without a cause.” We rebel for rebellion’s sake. Sadly, too many never grow out of this state. But in reality, God’s law is the only means that leads to our ultimate and eternal freedom.

Human laws, on other hand, are often unjust. No one knew this better than Jesus. But because he obeyed the Father’s laws perfectly, he delivered us from the slavery of both sin and death, forever. Within living memory for many of us, Martin Luther King, Jr., knew this too. While being held unjustly in the Birmingham Jail, he penned his famous letter in which he quoted Thomas Aquinas writing, “An unjust law is no law at all.” Thomas Jefferson once wrote of human laws saying, “If a law is unjust, a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so.” So it is with human laws. But God’s laws, on the other hand, are always just, and perfectly so. Rather than limiting our behavior, they free us to know what is really good, and to choose it in all circumstances, even though, at times, there is great cost for obeying God’s law. The psalmist understands this too when he says, “Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble.”

Our prayer, then, is that we be given the wisdom and the strength to develop the self-discipline, the faith, and the courage to willingly and humbly comply with the liberating law of God. Lord, help us to meditate on your law at all times. Give us the grace to know your law in our hearts, not just in our heads, so that we may practice it more regularly in all that we say and do. In learning to obey your law we will no longer stumble so much. Rather, we will find the delight and the great peace that our souls so dearly yearn for. We pray in the name of Jesus. Amen!

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.