Recently, I discovered an easy method of starting an argument. Simply ask people if they think traffic laws are fair! Instant disagreement ensues—from those who express disgust at the number of traffic cameras on the road all the way to people who say, “I don’t speed, so it’s not a problem.” Some will tell you that the laws are good, and others will tell you that laws are about controlling people. The people who say the laws are good are criticised for being too compliant. Those who say the law is controlling are accused of really meaning “laws stop me from doing what I want”.
I understand, truly. For most of my life, my mode of transportation has been public transit. It has only been since I got a job that required a lot of travel that I gave in and bought a car—a rusty, broken-down, cheap one, but a car nonetheless.
Since that first concession to the auto industry, I’ve owned several cars but only one new car. It was a Holden SV6 in Peter Brock blue. It was so comfortable and modern, and the handling was amazing. I learned that obnoxiously loud road noise and tyres slipping in the rain weren’t normal parts of driving. There’s nothing like a new car! The first time I put my foot down, I thought I was going to fly to my destination. I reached what felt like the speed limit only to look at the odometer and realise I was actually 20 over. In shock, I planted my foot on the brake and brought it back to the legal limit. But then it felt like I was just crawling down the road.
I was puzzled. Why would they design a car to easily do twice the posted speed limit if I would never be able to legally drive it that fast?
It turns out that speeding is one of the biggest contributors to motor vehicle accidents. Statistics from New South Wales, Australia, show that excessive speed is responsible for about 41 per cent of car fatalities and 24 per cent of serious injuries annually. With 2022’s numbers in Australia showing more than 1100 people around the nation dying on the road that year, the figures quickly add up and the number of fatalities has been rising in recent years.
So, it makes sense to have laws that slow cars down for the public’s safety. Speeding laws save lives, even though it feels like they take away from the fun of fast driving. Laws are good for us and those around us. I’m honest enough to admit that while it might be fun to drive fast, I may not have the requisite skills to do so safely.
Do the right thing
There is a part of me that knows that obeying the law is a good thing. And there is a part of me that says I can be trusted with my own freedom to disobey the law. Here’s the interesting thing—there is a third part of me that tells me I should listen to the first part rather than the second part. It is clear we all have that third part because when someone accuses us of doing something wrong, we immediately try to justify it. If I were pulled over by a policeman for speeding, I might try and explain my reasons for breaking the law, not only to avoid a fine but also to continue the illusion that I am a good and law-abiding person. Even if we believe in “right” and “wrong”, many of us will often decide to do the wrong thing anyway.
Author CS Lewis called this the “law of nature” or the “law of doing right or wrong”. In his book Mere Christianity, he suggests that this built-in morality that all humans possess—the impulse that we should choose the right thing—is evidence that there is an external “something” that instilled this impulse in us. Otherwise, how would we have it?
That greater external “something” is, of course, God. This raises an interesting question. If we all have this sense of morality—the belief that there is right and wrong and that we should do the right thing—what does that tell us about God? This impulse is a significant indicator of what God is like.
So, what is God like?
First, that moral impulse tells us that God believes in freedom. Even when I know something is wrong, I still have the freedom to do it. God doesn’t appear in front of me like a celestial policeman ready to issue me a fine. He allows me to ignore that part of me that tells me I should do the right thing and disobey to my heart’s content.
However, although we are free, the Bible says this about our freedom: “‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. . . . Not everything is constructive” (1 Corinthians 10:23). We have freedom, but not everything we choose is good or will turn out well.
Also, the understanding that we all know we should do the right thing tells me that God is good. Since God is the one who has put the conviction to do the right thing in us, it tells me that He wants me to choose good, not bad.
Tablets in the sand
Knowing that God gives us freedom but wants us to do the right thing tells us that God must like laws. The Bible certainly confirms that view. Even when I choose to do good things, I can’t always rely on my own ideas. For me, speeding felt pretty good, but in fact, it’s dangerous, and the law reminds me of that. So, what has God told us is good?
Early in the Bible narrative, we find the children of Israel in the desert. They have recently been freed from being slaves of the Egyptians and are camped at the foot of Mount Sinai. However, they have forgotten what God is like or how to follow Him, so He gives them laws. The centrepiece of these laws is what we call the Ten Commandments. God carved them into stone with His own finger. They are recorded in Exodus 20:
- “You shall have no other gods before Me.
- “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
- “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.
- “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
- “Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.
- “You shall not murder.
- “You shall not commit adultery.
- “You shall not steal.
- “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
- “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbour’s” (Exodus 20:3–17).
They sound so simple! I wonder what the world would be like if everyone chose to live by these commandments. Imagine if there was no theft, no murder and no infidelity. What a very different world we would live in. Do you think it would be a better world?
The first four laws are about the relationship we have with God, and He makes it clear He wants our relationship to be exclusive—no other gods! The last six guide how we are to get along with other people.
Again, these laws may appear to limit our freedom, but in reality, they instruct us how to best use our power of choice. They protect us, they protect others and they strengthen society. For example, if no-one is envious of what I own, they won’t want to steal it.
These aren’t the only laws the Bible mentions. But by the time of Jesus, the Jewish people had expanded the number of God’s laws to 613, composed of well-intentioned but man-made regulations called the mitzvot. As you can imagine, this meant that the law was something the people in Jesus’ time worried about a lot. With so many to keep, there were whole classes of religious leaders whose only job was to explain the law.
But something interesting happened when the Pharisees asked Jesus about them—they asked which was the greatest commandment.
Jesus answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37).
Rather than make the law more complicated, He showed us that the very foundation of the laws given in the Bible—the Ten Commandments—could be boiled down to just two: love God supremely and love your neighbour as you love yourself. This is what God has told us is right. It tells us that God’s laws are about love and that He is about love as well.
Love is the law, and the law is love. When you choose to love God, it follows that you will choose to embrace His Ten Commandments. That is real freedom!
Justin Bone supports and trains pastors and congregations across Victoria, Australia. He is passionate about helping people understand the Bible better.