Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Breaking the law

It's a gorgeous day here in Bellingham, a harbinger of spring one might even say, if one was prone to saying such things--or knew the definition of the word harbinger.  E walked in after her early morning class and suggested we take the dogs up to the lake for a bit of a game of catch in the smooth as glass lake.  In the last few days, I've had our Matrix to drive, which has been in Spokane with SK while we've had her Subaru repaired.  It's nice to drive the Matrix because it's our designated 'dog-taxi', the only one of our vehicles we allow our beloved dogs to ride in.  The large one sheds like it's a job, after all, and they both drool like it's their avocation--all over our windows.  One car is plenty to have to deal with, love them though we do.  So it's nice to have the Matrix home.  About 80% of the time, even when it's home, I don't drive it because I have to run this errand or that for and with the elders.  So the dogs have been in...well, dog heaven to get to ride around this week with their noses out the windows of the Matirx, even though most of my 'work' has still been on the elders' behalf.

Not this morning, however.  This was all about the dogs.  The moment E pulled out the leashes, the dogs began whining.  There are only two things leashes mean in our house, one very, very good, and the other equally bad.  Either we're going on some walk or to a dog park, or--shiver, whine, oh the horror!--to the vet.  However, these are not stupid dogs, and E did pull out BOTH leashes.  A trip to the vet never, ever involves more than one leash at a time.  And Jackson, the big lug, has been around the block (literally--but that's a different story!) a time or two, so he began jumping at E's face.  Jamaica, the little copy-pup, began baying, just to make sure we knew she was there, I think.

Anyway, after winding them up, we got them loaded up, then wound up at the large lake up the road, which typically has an off-leash area each November through May.  Due to my family's schedule and my physical limitations, the dogs haven't been there in a while.  But, as I say, they aren't dumb dogs.  They were out the back of the Matrix like they were being sprung from prison, Jackson sprinting for the boat-dock.  He knows the drill.

I threw the first ball far into the water for Big J a bit shorter for Little J, then realized we've been frequenting a different lake since Jamaica's lived with us. Uh-oh! This lake is deeper, and Jamaica was almost immediately frantic to get back up on that dock (not releasing the ball, of course), her head barely out of the water, her legs paddling furiously to keep her from sinking.  A whole lot different than Jackson's smooth flat glide across the surface. You'll be happy to know (as E and I were) that neither of us had to go into the January-cold water after her to retrieve her, but it was iffy for a moment there.  After that, E just threw so she could spring along the shore-line comfortably, while Jackson, the big oaf,  continually dropped his ball the second he could stand and continued to swim the entire time we were there.  Jamaica likes fetching just enough that she'd bounce on his for us so he could play as well.

Fun time, right?  Then an elderly man in a Pendleton plaid shirt walked down to us and said, "Did you realize that this whole area is NOT open to dogs, because the grass has been so destroyed?"
"No," we told him.  "We didn't know that."
"Well, there's a big sign up there," he said.  "I'm not part of the parks crew or anything, but I just thought you should know.  I thought either you didn't know, or you knew and were simply ignoring the sign."
"We've only been on the dock and on the gravel down here by the lake," I said.  "But we we would never willingly ignore a posted sign."
"Maybe it's okay, then," he said.  "But I thought you should know."
"Thank you," We told him.  We quickly reined in our reluctant dogs, let them wander around  (leashed) in the parking lot for a bit to dry off, then headed for home.

But I keep thinking of his words, "...or you knew and were simply ignoring the sign."  Just a couple of days ago I began reading 1 Timothy and came across this verse: "We know that the law is good if one uses it properly.  We also know that the law is not made for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious..." (1:8, 9a)  When I read it (and there's actually a much longer list beyond what I wrote out here), I have to admit I was feeling a little smug.  Most of the things on that list I haven't done.  However, this little incident this morning reminded me of a truth I have often struggled with.  This sign represented a parks ordinance, ie, a law.  And we broke that law this morning.  Granted, we didn't know we were breaking it, and therefore, our hearts were pure.  Nevertheless, in the eyes of the law, that fact was immaterial.  Also immaterial to that law was the fact that our dogs weren't even on the fragile grass the law was designed to protect.

I've often had conversations with people about whether one can sin if one's heart is pure.  And I'm thinking this morning that the answer is yes.  There are human laws I know nothing about--ordinances here, mandates there, regulations and requirements cities, states and federal governments pass constantly without passing down to us, the little people who have to abide by them. How can we possibly know them all?  In fact, don't they often change without warning or (perhaps even more confounding) our acceptance? Most of the time, most of us are ruled by our sense of good conduct, our ethical understanding of what is right and wrong. (By the way, I have often thought about the saying that laws aren't made to legislate morality, and wonder what else are they meant to legislate if not our moral behavior?  Just wondering)   Isn't this the truth?  Paul, in Romans, acknowledges this when he states, "(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law unto themselves...They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them. 2: 14-15)

That's the bottom line, isn't it?  That most of us know in our hearts and in our minds what is right and wrong.  And therefore, we also know this:  that there is a deeper law than the law of any city, state or nation.  And it's this law that Paul is ultimately talking about.  E and I could claim ignorance when that man first spoke to us this morning.  However, from that moment on, we could not stay at the lake.  Once we knew were were in the wrong, we could not continue to do wrong.  Because that would make us wrong--not simply our behavior, but ourselves.  It was in that moment that we had the choice of breaking a human law, which we hadn't known, and sinning.  We might have gotten away with it.  We might not have seen another soul, or we might have been able to pass off our actions as ignorance to anyone else who came along.  But the sin would have been committed in the very first moment the man had spoken.  And the sin would have been against God.

I sin enough in a day.  My temper is short at times.  I blame it on my physical pain, but in fact, it has more to do with not being right with God than being wrong in my body.  "All sin and fall short of the glory of God," Romans tells us.  That's the worst of it, the reason for every law that's ever been thought up, legislated, and enforced.  ALL sin.  If we didn't sin, we wouldn't need the law.  Yep, that's the very worst of it. 

However, it's also prelude to the very best of it.  "That while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."  Even while I'm breaking laws, being mad, acting in my interest rather than anyone else's, let alone His!, He died for me.  No, let's just start with He was born for me.  Became Incarnate for me.  From there, every thing else was a fait accompli.  His ministry, His betrayal, His crucifixion, His resurrection  Can it be?  For all of us who've broken laws, those written by humans, and those--far more important--written on our hearts that reek of God.

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