24 Questions for Advent: Sixteen
Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people? Is there any better or equal hope in the world?
– Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address, 1861
Patience. Confidence. Justice. Hope.
Lincoln’s plea to the country as he was beginning his first term, a country which was rapidly falling apart by the impassioned strains of slavery and whether states have the right before the law to maintain it, was for people to exercise the fruits of the Spirit.
For the most part, they didn’t. Secession and war came quickly.
Both sides thought a civil war would be short. The South felt they had the right to secede, and questioned why northerners would risk their lives to hold them back; the North didn’t believe southerners would stay unified against their superior power and will to keep the Union together.
Each side underestimated the passion of the other. Deeper convictions kept the war going as hundreds of thousands of lives were lost.
There are some that believe that the nation today has similar divisions. That strongly held beliefs about rights and the role of the federal government still lead us to rage against each other, not as much across state borders, but across political parties, families and communities of faith. No one can imagine the creation of regional armies to take up arms against one another, but the battle has taken other forms. The fight is over the law, and those that legislate and enforce it.
The law is necessary. It sets the stage and maintains the structure that allows us to work out our differences in a civil manner. The law makes it possible for people who would not choose one another to live with one another. It can create opportunities or can restrict them. Law maintains order in society, as well as the status quo, even if unjust.
But as in ancient Israel, the law does not bring life. That is the work of the Spirit.
The law says, “This is how people must treat each other.” The Spirit says, “This is why we treat each other in such a way.” The law creates a path; the Spirit shows us the which direction to go...sometimes, even off the path. Because law is limited to the externals, and therefore must be continually amended to be consistent with the changing needs of the persons subject to it. The Spirit seeks to meet the persons needs at the very root.
St. Paul had to deal with divisions in the early Corinthian church:
Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.
I Corinthians 3:1-6, NIV
As Lincoln had implored, the fight over law is a crucial one, as law determines our rights and seeks to maintain them. But in the midst of the fight, as Paul later wrote to the Corinthians (I Cor. 12:31), “I will show you the most excellent way.” The Way of Love.
The Holy Spirit produces a different kind of fruit:
unconditional love, joy, peace, patience, kindheartedness,
goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
You won’t find any law opposed to fruit like this.
Galatians 5:22-23, The Voice