The New Tower of Babel
Today I drove past two little crosses below telephone poles. Both tragic reminders of lives lost in automobile accidents. I actually recall the day one of them occurred because of the awful traffic that it caused for a solid 4-6 hours. How cold it feels to reflect on my selfish reaction to the traffic. The fact remains that evil (evil here is not a theological concept but any negative consequence from the fall and sin) exists in this fallen world and these two crosses are regular reminders.
It was while reflecting on the existence of evil that I discovered mankind's new Tower of Babel rebellion. Before we get to the diagnosis I need to explain what revealed this insight. In studying of the Scripture my appreciation for the Torah has increased exponentially. Genesis through Deuteronomy are some of the highlights of the Bible as far as I am concerned. And as is to be expected, upon further study of the Torah I found myself dissatisfied with how it contoured to me and my beliefs. In particular, why the Mosaic Law (a reflection of God's Holy character) refuses aggressive regulation to eliminate evil.
Let me explain what I mean by this. Two examples should suffice to do this and both involve the death penalty (this is not a death penalty article). First, in the Mosaic Law God requires a plurality of witnesses to enact the death penalty (Deut 17:6; 19:15). A single witness is not sufficient to bring about judgment. The accused walks free guilty or not in the case of one witness. The second is the rather strange "adultery test" of Numbers 5:11-31. Leaving some of the more weird details aside for the moment, the procedure involves an abnormal response to indicate guilt. Oh, I said two but I'll give you three and leave you with homework. The third examples is the priestly cities of refuge for those who accidentally kill a person. Under law, the avenger is justified if they can reach the killer before they enter the city of refuge. Justice is delivered since they are deserving of death. On the other hand, this accidental killer can reside in a city of refuge until the death of the high priest in which case he is exonerated. Your homework is to go find the Scriptural texts for this third example. What do these three examples have in common? They actively work to protect the innocent. Two of them in very strange ways.
This is where we in our fallen nature stumble. We know that on the last day true judgment will be handed down from the throne of God. It is easy to understand why we would expect the same thing from God's law (if it reflects His holy character). But the law makes an interesting distinction from the future judgment, it does not press to convict the guilty in every case and at every opportunity. It always works to protect the innocent and that includes protecting them from false convictions. God's law really is the epitome of "innocent until proven guilty" with the guilty sometimes declared innocent (!) under the Mosaic law.
This might strike some of us as unfair. This will certainly strike us as unfair if we have been drinking from a secular spirit of law. Presently in America this spirit is active and evident. Our laws try to regulate evil and bad consequences out of everything with no concern for protecting innocence. The yearly reveal of DNA testing rescuing someone from a death sentence ~20 years ago should be nauseating to us. Our laws exceed God's, they convict the innocent and that is disgusting. But we have grown accustomed to these things. We have let our regulations trickle down to harmless things really but they are examples nonetheless. Kids by law have to wear helmets on bikes. Seatbelts must be used by everyone in the car. Here in Austin we now have a no hand-held phone policy. Given my driving experience I'd prefer (and soon expect) the no-makeup, no-coffee, and no-sandwich eating regulations. We are desperate to obtain utopia through regulation. We are convinced if we can find the right set of laws we can remove all the evil incidents (and their consequences) that occur. The ends are in sight. We merely need to line up the means. This is our new attempt to build the tower of Babel.
But we can't rid this world of evil. No amount of regulation can return us to the Garden of Eden. Bad things are going to happen. Accidents are going to happen. Sometimes the guilty will walk free. But ever persistent, even among Christians, is the perception that it is man's duty to remove these opportunities for evil at every turn. So we allow them to regulate what we eat. How big our soda cups may be. What our children must wear while on bicycles and how long they have to ride in booster seats. Lately the discussion has been vaccinations. Like everything else on the list, the discussion should never be about whether vaccinations are beneficial. That is actually completely irrelevant. But the spirit of the age can be found on prime display when the argument for regulation stems from the idol of removing potential evils.
This will strike people as funny sounding. Aren't Christians supposed to be battling evil and spreading God's kingdom? Yes. Through the gospel. The Great Commission brings Christ's Kingdom to earth. Regulating out each and every small evil is trying to make manifest the Garden of Eden. It's the new Tower of Babel.