The decision whether it is wise to break or defy a law is a complex one. As I discuss in my blog “The Genius of the Common Law”, in order to discern wisdom from foolishness, we must learn as much as we can about the facts and circumstances, customs and cultures that form the basis for a teaching or command. And as I discuss in my blog “Proclaiming the Whole Counsel of God”, in order to discern wisdom from foolishness we need the whole counsel—the whole Wisdom—of God.
We frequently hear calls to respect “the rule of law”. This is often tied to the statements that we are “a nation of laws and not of men.” And that “no man is above the law.”
Of course, nowadays we update these proverbs by using gender inclusive words: “we are a nation of laws and not of persons” and “no one is above the law.”
In addition, I want to insert the word “wise” into these proverbs: “the rule of wise laws”; “we are a nation of wise laws and not of persons”; and “no one is above wise laws”.
Otherwise, we risk having people forget that no law or person is above God—and that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of Wisdom. (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 9:10).
As with any proverb, there are many insights and applications from the proverb that “no one is above wise laws”.
There are a number of reasons why this proverb is wise.
First, Jesus commanded us not to be like rulers and high officials who “lord it over” people. Instead, whoever wants to be great must be a servant of ALL people. We must sacrifice ourselves to help others, as Jesus “did not come to be served, but to serve—and to give his life . . . for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28).
Second, all people—and all communities of wisdom, families, businesses, nations and civilizations—have gone stray like sheep. Each of us has turned to our own way. (Isaiah 53:6; Ephesians 6:12). Wise laws and customs turn us back towards the ways we should live. (Psalm 1:1-6).
For example, in the Bible, King David is called “a man after God’s own heart” who would fulfill all God’s will. (Acts 13:22 KJV; 1 Samuel 13:14; 16:7).
Nevertheless, David went astray and turned to his own way. He raped Bathsheeba. He committed adultery. Then he covered up his crimes by committing another crime—David murdered Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah!
Fortunately, not even King David was above the law. The Prophet Nathan publicly condemned King David! (2 Samuel 12:1-10).
To King David’s credit, he did not denounce Nathan’s charges as fake news.
King David did not attack Nathan’s motives.
King David did not deflect Nathan’s charges by saying that many other kings have acted that way.
Instead, King David told the truth. He confessed publicly to Nathan: “I have sinned against the LORD.” (2 Samuel 12:13).
As written in Psalm 51, David prayed:
“Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.”
David’s example shows why we must not let anyone be above wise laws:
—the public needs to be protected from “bad choices”, including rape, adultery or murder; and
—wise laws help people realize that they “made bad choices” in the past so that they will be more likely to “make good choices” in the future. (Psalm 51:10-17; Romans 7:7; 13:1-5; 1 Peter 2:11-17).
As with any proverb, this proverb needs to be applied wisely considering all of the facts and circumstances.
We can see this in applying a number of proverbs found in the Bible.
Proverbs 26:4 says: “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.”
Yet the very next verse is a proverb that gives us the opposite advice: “Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.” (Proverbs 26:5).
So, which is the wise advice? Do not answer a fool according to his folly? Or do answer a fool according to his folly?
Because the wise choice depends on all the facts and circumstances!
A famous passage in the Third Chapter of Ecclesiastes tells us there is a time-for-this and a time-for-that. A time to weep and a time to laugh. A time to mourn and a time to dance. A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).
How do we discern the times when it is wise to take these different actions?
By considering all the facts and circumstances.
Jesus denounced the hypocrisy of the foolish Elites who spouted a veneer of Fake Wisdom to condemn both John the Baptist and Jesus. He said:
“For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ [Jesus] came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by all her children.” (Luke 7:31-35, emphasis added).
Often, hypocrites who wield the Power of Money, the Power of Religion, and the Power of the Kingdoms of the World deceive their victims by “proof texting” to create a veneer of Fake Wisdom.
Proof Texting means ignoring the facts and circumstances that influenced the original text.
Proof Texting means ignoring any differences between the facts and circumstances when the text was written, and the facts and circumstances to which the text is being applied.
Proof Texting deceives those who are unwilling, or unable, to do the hard work of taking into account all of the relevant facts and circumstances in order to act wisely.
Proof Texting deceives those who listen to argue instead of listening to understand.
Because, if we Listen-to-Understand we will gain wisdom from those who are aware of facts and circumstances that we were unaware of.
But if we Listen-to-Argue we will ignorantly regurgitate clever says—clever parables—that do not fit the relevant facts and circumstances.
Proof Texting usually refers to quoting a verse of the Bible out of context.
However, Proof Texting sometimes misuses out-of-context quotes from famous people without considering all of the relevant facts and circumstances. Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, FDR, JFK, Martin Luther King, Ronald Reagan, and Barack Obama are popular sources of such out-of-context quotes.
Whatever the source of the out-of-context quote, Proof Texting creates a veneer of Fake Wisdom to mislead people.
Fortunately, Jesus was right when he gave us the parable: “Wisdom is proved right by all her children.” (Luke 7:35).
For example, a wise person knows when unwise laws must be broken and defied.
In the Bible, such people included Jesus (Matthew 12:1-14; John 2:13-17), Peter and John (Acts 4:1-3,18-20,29; 5:27-28,40-42), and Paul (Acts 16:19-24; 2 Corinthians 11:23-25).
In more recent times, such wise people include Martin Luther, Roger Williams, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Sojourner Truth, Henry David Thoreau, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and John Lewis.
The decision whether it is wise to break or defy a law is a complex one.
As I discuss in my blog “The Genius of the Common Law”, in order to discern wisdom from foolishness, we must learn as much as we can about the facts and circumstances, customs and cultures that form the basis for a teaching or command.
And, as I discuss in my blog “Proclaiming the Whole Counsel of God”, in order to discern wisdom from foolishness we need the whole counsel—the whole Wisdom—of God.
If we do not follow the whole Wisdom of God, we will follow only the part of the Wisdom of God that criticizes specks in the eyes of other people, communities of wisdom, families, businesses, nations, and civilizations.
If we do not follow the whole Wisdom of God, we will ignore the part of the Wisdom of God that criticizes planks in the eyes of ourselves, our communities of wisdom, our families, our businesses, our nations, and our civilizations. (Matthew 7:1-5; Amos 1:1-9:15).
Sometimes these planks are unwise laws and customs.
For example, too often we automatically, compulsively, and hypocritically condemn every politician and policy in a different political party, but we automatically, compulsively, and hypocritically commend every politician and policy in our own political party.
For example, too often we automatically, compulsively, and hypocritically condemn other nations and people who use violence and force to oppress and exploit people, but we automatically, compulsively, and hypocritically commend the use of violence and force by our own nation and by ourselves to oppress and exploit people because it increases our wealth and power.
Frederick Douglass broke unwise laws to escape slavery.
In the famous speech that he delivered in my hometown of Rochester, New York after the Fourth of July in 1852, Frederick Douglass condemned the hypocrisy of those who follow such evil laws as slavery while boasting about how much they love Jesus and the Declaration of Independence.
In his speech, titled “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”, Frederick Douglass said:
“[t]he feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced. Otherwise, the celebration of the Fourth of July is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to [a slave] mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy.”
To Douglass, all such celebrations of liberty in America were “a thin veil to cover up crimes that would disgrace a nation of savages.”
The sad truth was that:
“[t]here is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.”
Douglass concluded his speech with the horrifying thought that “for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.”
Fortunately, despite the “revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy” that persist to this day in the United States, the vision of the ideal America that was first discovered in the hearts of Abraham, Moses and Jesus still guides wise people who know how to discern the difference between when we are not above wise laws and when we need to defy and break evil laws and customs.
This discernment is similar to the discernment that I discussed in my blog “Grace and Peace—Titus”. In that blog, I reviewed facts and circumstances that sometimes led Jesus and Paul to condemn divisive people and sometimes led Jesus and Paul to be divisive themselves.
For example, Jesus was “divisive” when he fiercely denounced religious leaders: (i) for their hypocrisy; (ii) for failing to be “generous to the poor”; and (iii) for “neglect[ing] justice and the love of God”. (Luke 11:41-54).
Paul was “divisive” when he healed a woman and ended her exploitation, even though the men who were exploiting the woman reacted so angrily and viciously that they seized Paul, incited a mob to attack him, dragged him into court, and accused him of treason, so that Paul was stripped, beaten with rods, flogged, and thrown into prison. (Acts 16:16-24).
Both Jesus and Paul were wise to be “divisive” when it was necessary or desirable to help people—to do for others what they would want done for themselves. (Matthew 10:32-36; Matthew 7:12)
For Wisdom is proved right by all her children!
Wisdom is proved right when we discern that the times require us to ensure that no one is above wise laws.
Wisdom is proved right when we discern that the times require us to defy and break evil laws and customs.
Furthermore, evil laws and customs such as slavery must be defied and broken!
Because such laws are “planks in our eyes” that keep us from seeing clearly the vision of the ideal America that was first discovered in the hearts of Abraham, Moses and Jesus—the ideal America that blesses ALL people, sets ALL people free, and heals ALL people.
God bless America!
For additional thoughts about ending violence, curtailing the use of force, and embracing peace, please read my blogs “Ending Violence: Putting Faces With Names”, “Ending Violence: Embracing the Spirit of Peace”, “Curtailing Force: Replacing Nails With Glue”, “Curtailing Force: Reason, Facts and Wisdom”, “Curtailing Force: The Rule of Wise Laws”, and “Embracing Peace: The Least of the Least”.