This is a major shift in where we are as a nation, and one that many conservatives don’t yet seem to recognize. The rule of law used to be assumed on both the left and the right, but we can no longer take that commitment for granted—on the left or the right. Our first question about any potential president or legislator or judge can no longer be “are they pro-life”? Our first question must now be, are they pro-rule-of-law? Do they contribute to the strength of our national commitment to the rule of law or do they—directly or indirectly, through policy or rhetoric—weaken it?
Man-made laws are a mixed bag. Motivations range from desire to build a better society to desire to pander to a constituency, increase personal power, settle a score, or cover up wrongdoing. Even when well meant, laws often bring unintended consequences.
Rule of law, though, is better. As an alternative to the rule of mere men, it’s a rare and precious blessing. A portion of the Oxford English Dictionary definition(link is external) captures what I mean by the term.
… the principle whereby all members of a society (including those in government) are considered equally subject to publicly disclosed legal codes and processes.
Events of the past four years, especially the last four weeks, have exposed the fact that many who ought to be the most devoted and disciplined in support of the rule of law have lost sight of its value and importance.
Rule of Law is God’s Invention
When God organized ancient Israel into a nation, He chose to do more than put Moses in charge and rule through him. He provided words etched in stone (Exodus 32:16). Eventually He provided the entire Torah (Pentateuch), and Moses and later rulers were expected to apply it to the needs of the nation—and also obey it themselves.
We might argue that Hammurabi(link is external) introduced the rule of law first. Regardless, its invention was an act of God’s gracious providence in the world (James 1:17). By providing a written law to Israel, God made that clear.
Rule of Law Points to Greater Realities
Rule of law separates authority from personality, basing it outside the people in charge. But it does even more: it appeals to moral principles that are bigger than us—even all of us collectively.
In Israel’s case, those principles included “you shall be holy” (Exod. 22:32; Lev. 11:44, 19:2, 20:26) as well as principles such as the rightness of being kind to foreigners (Lev. 19:34, Deut. 10:19), respecting other people’s property (Exod. 20:15), and taking responsibility for unintended harm (Exod. 21:33, Deut. 22:4).
From a natural law(link is external) perspective, the rule of law points to a transcendent order built into creation itself. From a biblical perspective, it points to the Transcendent Orderer who created. Either way, though secularists may try to deny it, law points beyond the merely human.
Of all people, Christians should treasure and zealously uphold the rule of law!