Summary: Grace contrasted with law as an answer to the evil of the world
We went to the zoo on bank holiday Monday. I was like a kid - excited at seeing all the differeent creatures. We saw kangaroos, girafes, leopards, lions and tigers, it was all very exciting. But one creature they had on display was easily missed, They had a little cage wiith the caption ’the most dangerous animal in the world’. There was no wild animal inside the cage. Instead the back of it was open and people could walk into it and have their photos taken behind bars and under the sign ’the most dangerous animal in the world’. It is true, isn’t it, that our own human race has caused mroe damage and destruction to the world than all the animals put together. Through the centuries human beings have been responsible for tremendous acts of cruelty, selfishness, hate and greed.
Whenever we read the newspapers or listen to the news we hear of wrong doing and evil. We see new ways of doing wrong, new depths to which humanity seems to be sinking. We see murders, crimes, wars, deceit. A common reaction is to despair about the state of the world and humanity, to give up on the world and to say "Stop the world, I want to get off!"
Despair might only get worse if we look at ourselves. We see in our own characters all sorts of things that are not right, that are wrong towards other people, the world and to God. Nowhere and nothing seems to be free from our destruction and evil. Just as the display in the zoo says, Human beings are the most dangerous animal in the world.
Everyone seems to have their own idea of what is right and what is wrong. We might think that things would somehow improve if God told us how to live. If God broke into the world with his law and told us authoritatively what was right and what was wrong surely we would get out of the mess that we are in. That would be the end of all the evil in the world, surely.
In the reading that we have just heard, Paul writes about a time when God did authoritately and powerfully reeveal his law to humans. He showed his power to the Israelites by rescueing them from oppression and slavery. Then he gave them his law, showed them what standards of behaviour were right and told them how to live their lives. They found out how to treat each other with love and respect, recognising each others rights. They saw how God’s code of ethics was superior to any of human devising or imagination. Here, then, were a people who should not have been in a mess, people who should have been free from the troubles of other nations. What’s more, other nations should have seen this and come to them tof find out the way to live themselves. But it didn’t work out this way. Instead they appeared no different to other people. Their evil wrongdoings increased. Often they were even worse than other nations.
Paul says something quite astonishing about this. He stated that much of the people’s sin was actually because of the law, not despite it. In fact he even suggests that one of the reasons the law was given was to increase sin!
It is human nature to want to do things that are forbidden. I once read a story about a hotel owner whose hotel was on a pier jutting into a lake. The hotel was brand new and ready for openning when he was struck with a fear that people would want to fish from their windows. So he put up signs in all the rooms ’Do not fish from your windows’. The hotel then openned and immediately he was faced with broken window after broken window caused by people in rooms above trying to fish. He put up more and more signs, but still it continued. Eventually he reached desperation and sought advice on how to stop people fishing from the windows. The advice he got might have been surprising - he was told to take all the signs down. He did this, and straight away the problem stopped.
God is wiser than the hotel owner - he gave the law knowing that people would want to break it as soon as they heard it. In fact one of the reasons that he gave it was to show that it did not work, to show us that we could not perfectly keep the law and grow and develop a perfect society on our own and through our own human goodness.
All through the centuries people have tried to make the world a better place through keeping sets of laws of one form or another.