Respect for the Law

Sir, I had Commander Heatherly in my sights. He saw me move in for the kill. He then proceeded below the hard deck. We were below for just a few seconds. I had the shot. There was no danger, so I took it. – Maverick, Top Gun

I have a confession to make. Sometimes I break the law. Yes, yes, I know your jaws just dropped to the floor, but it’s true.

As a kid, I clung to a passage in the New Testament, Romans 13, that commands us to submit to the “governing authorities” because “all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.” I interpreted this verse to include obeying the law to the letter, much to the chagrin of those around me. I refused to pirate music or software. I obeyed the speed limit. I reported cash income that I could have easily hidden. I worked hard to make sure people didn’t copy my work and I didn’t copy anyone else’s work in school.

Yes, I was pretty annoying at times. But I wanted to please God, so if I had to choose between pleasing you and pleasing God, I wasn’t afraid to disappoint you.

As I got older, though, things changed a bit. I came to realize that some laws are unjust and others are straight-up stupid. Lawmakers lost their moral authority due to corruption and scandal. Situations arose in which following the law conflicted with other noble goals.

Now I choose which laws to follow and which to ignore. I’ll bet you do, too.

Our society has created a ranking system for crime, with murder and rape near the top and traffic violations near the bottom. Criminals at one end are often hated, spat upon, protested against, and rejected by society. Criminals at the other end are regarded as normal or even celebrated. For example, have you ever heard someone brag about how many speeding tickets they’ve gotten? Christians often do the same with sins named in the Bible. Idol worship, murder, and homosexuality are often at the bad end of the spectrum, while Sabbath-breaking, greed, and white lies are perfectly acceptable.

Today, I am largely an obedient, law-abiding citizen, the kind that cops don’t bother to pull over because they know they won’t find anything good. I’ve still never been pulled over by a cop, a quirk in which I take too much pride. But sometimes I do break the law. Sometimes it’s even intentional.

I try to limit my crimes to “nice” ones. Although I do annoyingly abide by the speed limit and look down my pointy, judgmental nose at those who ignore it, on occasion I have been known to speed. It’s often when I’m going to work and need to make up a bit of time. I justify it by saying I would rather speed than be late, which is a bigger crime in my office. Naturally, I try to drive no more than 5 mph over the limit so I won’t get caught. But when someone blows past at 80 or 90, I get mad. Sometimes I even honk at them, but only when I’m driving legally myself. I don’t want to be TOO hypocritical, just a little.

I also ran a red light once. No one was around. I didn’t want to wait.

I occasionally take medications that were prescribed to other people, which is a violation of federal drug law. Why? Because when I feel bad, and my wife or kid has a few leftover anti-nausea pills or asthma inhalers that are exactly what I need, I’m not going to waste time and money going to a doctor and getting a new prescription. The fact that I’m highly unlikely to get caught makes my decision much easier.

I gave alcohol to a minor. (At a Baptist university, might I add.) Why? I knew the recipient would handle it responsibly, and, well, I was feeling a bit naughty.

Why do I feel that I can decide which laws to follow and which to flaunt? On a related note, why do I feel I can decide which parts of the Bible to obey and which ones to ignore or reinterpret? I’m not quite sure. I just do it. Maybe I simply don’t like being chained by rules. Maybe it’s a subconscious reaction against legalism. Maybe it’s a realization that the law is limited and imperfect, unable to provide the proper answer for every situation.

What are your thoughts?