Mar 27, 2016

Resurrection and Law

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.
That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 
And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. Eph 1:18-23
We see in the passage above a prayer for us that God may make Christians understand our hope for future blessings and present power. Presently, our hope is for a power like the power God exercised in Christ's resurrection. By this resurrection power, first, God subordinated all other powers and authorities to Christ. Second, God made Christ, who is present by authority everywhere, specially present in the church. In the Easter meditation that follows, the relevance of our present hope for power like that exercised in Christ's resurrection is explored.

How Does Law Relate to Christ's Resurrection and Our Hope of Resurrection in Him?

Any instrumentally rational work for law (i.e. one that coherently connects a means to an end) requires belief in the resurrection of man. If our goal is justice, we cannot work for law unless we view it as an acceptable means of being just and producing justice. But knowing law as we do, and more of this in the third paragraph, we cannot think that working for law is a means of both being just and bringing about justice in the required ways unless there is a life after this in which its inadequacies can be remedied. We don't have natural reasons to believe in such a resurrection.

Given our inward understanding of man's sinfulness and desert of death, we cannot hope in ourselves for our own resurrection. The more we come to know ourselves the more we learn to take our current sufferings and approaching deaths as absolutely warranted. Belief in the resurrection is something we can only accept and hope for if we believe that there is some remedy for our sin, something that would make it just for us to hope for life. Our apprehension that we ourselves are truly worthy of death and rightly bound to death, which is the negative natural image of the Gospel, is relieved only by the Gospel: God's Son died for our sins and the Father raised Him from the dead, accepting His Death in place of ours and thereby inaugurating a new Kingdom under this new principle of justification and atonement with God, by which man can relate to the Lord of all and to all others within His Kingdom. With this belief comes a correlate expectation -- given specific shape by the specific promise of Christ -- that having died with Christ and risen with Him in baptism, we will be filled with the power of God Himself, the Holy Spirit, to teach and work in the way of this new possibility of life-giving justice. By the Life, Breath or Spirit of God Himself, against the physical and spiritual deaths that we still harbor in ourselves according to our own nature and works, we can begin to live in the power of all those who live for the eternal order, which is above all the powers and threats and inducements of this age. With our new confidence of participation in the power of God, we can proceed in a literally new spirit in the work of the law, hoping to overcome and conquer the evils of the age with good and life, despite the natural impossibility or improbability of accomplishing real justice now and through our own sinful and life-destroying power.

Let's unpack the first premise of this: any rational institution or acceptance of law requires belief in the resurrection of man. Classically, this essential link between resurrection and law was grounded upon law's dependence on justice and justice's dependence on immortality, which arises from the limitations of justice in this life.

Here's how we see the need for man's immortality to accept law: Law can be justified only insofar as it is ordered to justice. But, even in the best forms of law that we could hope for on earth, law as a device of human ordering must allow, indeed, make positive provision for injustice: (1) in many matters (especially, relating to inward issues resting in the mysteries of man's conscience which human tribunals cannot penetrate, but also extending to other limitations of evidence and fair process about things that are external); and (2) for many reasons (especially, human legislators and judges of even perfect law are nescient, fallible, corruptible, partial). Real trade-offs with respect to law and justice just seem inevitable, e.g., if we establish the rule of law by limiting law to rules that can be applied mechanically then the laws work injustice because we cannot foresee all the situations in which they will be applied, and so ignore the need for equity. On the other hand, if we allow judges to apply equity in their judgments as required for individual justice, then we lose the rule of law to the judge's discretion and cause unjust social harm because of resulting loss of predictability and the inevitable abuse by human judges of their unrestrained power. Along lines this of inevitable injustice, it would seem that law cannot be justified as a means to justice because, even in principle, law will do injustice. In practice, it is much worse as we experience the work of sin corrupting even the most industrious efforts to do justice through law. (E.g., the U.S. has a great legal system absolutely culpable for promoting the slaughter of the unborn and the destruction of American families.)

On the other hand, it was classically argued that limitations on the work of law for justice in this world could be accepted if there was a hope that its work would be perfected by justice after life. If the work of law for justice here is a part of the overall course of justice stretching into the next life, then the limitation of human law here is not fatally problematic.

The injustice of law in this world comes to be seen like the limited justice of a preliminary injunction. The preliminary injunction does not provide compensation for all wrongs asserted in a complaint, but it can be justified as an institution despite this because it aims to prevent more wrongs from arising before the final trial; justification for a preliminary injunction is not proposed in terms of itself alone. The preliminary injunction is ordered toward a final trial, in which complete justice will be meted out with damages and penalties and permanent injunctions. Human immortality, coupled with a belief in the deep providence of a good God who would see to it that the inevitable justices of this world are compensated hereafter and who institutes law as a partial and temporary remedy in the interim, provides grounds for man to accept law now despite a recognition of its inevitable, baked-in injustices if viewed only in itself.

The problem with this view was threefold. First, there was no witness to the resurrection. The bodies of men die and putrefy. These are observable facts. But the immortal soul is not seen and its continuation after the body dies and decays is not seen. The universe seems with its concatenations of particles locked in endless rounds to be indifferent to the moral claims of man; the wronged dead receive no vindication or sympathy from inorganic and lifeless atoms of which they are composed. Absolute extinction of man, and his hopes for a final justice, is always the judgment of materialists and empiricists. If this is accepted, the rationality of taking up law now as a means to justice is compromised.

Second, there was no ground for believing even granting the immortality of the soul, that men who suffered one kind of injustice in this life deserved on the whole a compensation. The rich injustice of all men -- the dishonors that all men involve themselves in and the harm that they do to others -- this is observed. The fact that a man is wronged in this life may provide grounds for punishing another, but it is not ground for hope for the wronged man himself, who has committed his own wrongs as well as being wronged. The fact that I am more wronged than wronging may simply mean that I am doomed and another is doomed.

Third, even granting that man will live in some way after death and is entitled to some positive justice of compensation for the injustices done to him, men do not in fact put their hope in this. The observable fact is that man's concern with this life naturally predominates over man's hope for the next. Partially, this is because what natural grounds there are for belief in immortality suggest that the only life after the body dies will be incorporeal and disconnected to the concerns of this age. The kind of immortality we might hope for naturally is a kind of immortality where both the rights and wrongs of this bodily life are simply irrelevant for the future condition.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ answers all of these problems. First, the resurrection of Jesus was witnessed by hundreds and proclaimed to involve all men in the hope of life.
1Co 15:3-8 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
Ro 6:3 Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin--7 because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 
Second, the resurrection of Jesus proved that God has accepted a sacrifice for our sins so that we might hope for some good in the life to come. As Peter put it at Pentecost,
Ac 2:31 Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, "'The Lord said to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand 35 until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet." ' 36 "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." 37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" 38 Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Third, men who put their trust in the resurrection of Jesus Christ receive the Holy Spirit and in fact are able to lead new lives of life, overcoming their despair over death. Moreover, the immortality that comes from participation in Christ's resurrection is not "spiritual" but corporeal. It includes the "matters" of this life.
Col 3:1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.
Ro 14:7 For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 9 For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.
1Th 4:14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. .. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage each other with these words.
Therefore, let us encourage each other with Jesus' resurrection so that we might practice law in the power of the Holy Spirit.
That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. Eph 1:18-23
Given our faith in the resurrection of Jesus and in living and dying to Him, we know that we join with one who has power over all rule and authority and power and dominion. Since He has risen and rules, we know that our work in the law is not in vain nor the injustices that we suffer without a witness who will redeem them.


  1. Given inevitable injustice due to the fallibility of man in his nature, can it be said that any legal theory that claims any natural perception of true justice to be a detraction from the hope of Resurrection? Such a legal theory seems to run parallel with the idea that righteousness (i.e. eternal life) can be gained through fleshly human effort. If that is the case, I would venture to say that proponents of such a theory could be something akin to a Pharisee of true justice, as it would seem that they shut the door of justice in men's faces and they themselves do not enter.

  2. Great comment. I agree with the caveat that the key word is "any" in "any natural perception of true justice." I would say that a legal theory that claims a partial natural perception of justice could be true, but any theory that claims a complete natural perception of justice must be anti-Christian because Christians claim that the revelation of Christ is needed for any complete perception of anything, period. Here is Calvin on the same: