Opplyst liv

Feiring av Loven

Dette er en hilsen jeg ble bedt om å gi ved en middag for internasjonale gjester i forbindelse med tusenårsfeiringen av kristenretten på Moster.

We are gathered to celebrate the millennium of the establishment of a legal code, an occasion that, on the face of it, is an unlikely cause for general rejoicing. Laws are not, on the whole, objects of affection. We moan about laws; sometimes we try to bypass them, on the motorway, say. We easily think of laws as somehow restricting our freedom to do as we please — and we like doing as we please. We may admit the old adage, ubi societas ibi ius, ‘wherever society exists, there is law’; but we still see laws as a kind of necessary evil, a pragmatic compact to prevent the tiresome, time-wasting chaos that would otherwise result wherever crowds of people mill about together on the same small plot of land, more or less high-mindedly, more or less desperately seeking to thrive.

How different is the concept of law in the Bible! Think of Moses’s oration when Israel stands on the threshold of the land given them for the purpose of living out there God’s law (cf. Ps 105.44f.): ‘What great nation’, he asks, ‘has statutes and ordinances so righteous as all this law which I set before you this day?’ (Dt 4.8). To live by it was to anticipate beatitude, to form a new, gracious humanity. Needless to say, the law was not always kept well; there were times of decadence, even betrayal. But the power of the law to renew the nation remained; and seeped into the consciousness of other nations, too. 

The code we commemorate was part of this outward movement, the arrival in a glacial setting of a warming light first kindled at the Burning Bush. What is specific about it? Permit me to indicate three aspects. First, the Mosaic law sought to make of a heap of individuals a people, bound to each other by ties of charity and responsibility, terms inextricably linked. The second aspect is this: the people had tasks which the law codified: it was summoned to worship, so to found its future on gratitude for graces received; it was to care for the weak and to curb its vengeance; it was to till the land to make it lovely and fruitful; and it was to let its benediction flow abroad, even to the ends of the earth. The third aspect? Answerability, the consciousness of one day having to present an account of stewardship. The 13th-century codex of Gula renders this aspect in its introduction: ‘Foremost in our laws is this: we are to bow towards the East and pray to Christ, the holy one.’ Moses’s purpose is crowned with Christian sense, for from the East, we read in Scripture, Christ will come as Judge at the end of time. To turn East is to affirm, in a Christian optic, the finality and purposefulness of the historical process. 

So how do we make of our nation a people? What is our people’s life-giving task for the good of all? What are we doing it all for and to whom shall we answer? These questions, I’d say, have not lost relevance. It is good to be reminded of them.

Thank you. 

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