Guest Post: The Civil Law Keeps Kloosterman Safe at Night

The following is a guest post from an anonymous Reformed author. I’ve made some minor edits, so the author can receive all the credit for anything good you find in the article, while I ought to take the blame for the bad (at least in terms of style, formatting, and the like).

Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
Genesis 6:5

In responding to Professor Kloosterman’s review of VanDrunen’s monograph, “A Biblical Case for Natural Law”, Dr. VanDrunen presents the following colorful scenario, intended to buttress his case for natural law at work in unbelieving mankind:

Presumably when Kloosterman pulls out of his driveway on the way to work every day, his non-Christian neighbors do not lean out their windows and try to shoot him and then, after he has made his narrow escape, rush to his home to assault his family and loot his goods. Most non-Christians, most of the time, pursue law-abiding lives.

There is something in addition to natural law significantly at work in this example. Moreover, even with this other “something” at work, the conclusion that “most non-Christians, most of the time, pursue law-abiding lives” is unwarranted in view of Scripture (as Kloosterman has shown), and the empirical evidence of common experience.

That which restrains lawlessness and (sometimes) prevents the neighbor-with-shotgun scenario in society is civil law. This restraint operates in two channels: teaching and deterrence. All law is didactic. Laws on the law books declare right and wrong, good and evil. When abortion is prohibited, this teaches citizens that abortion is wrong; when abortion is permitted, this teaches that abortion is right. As Kloosterman says, there is a “a certain regard for righteousness, justice, and love” at work among unbelievers.

A second element that restrains lawlessness is the law’s deterrent effect. Calvin noted that the civil use of the law of God is useful to restrain evil in society:

The second function of the law is this: at least by fear of punishment to restrain certain men who are untouched by any care for what is just and right unless compelled by hearing the dire threats in the law. But they are restrained, not because their inner mind is stirred or affected, but because, being bridled, so to speak, they keep their hands from outward activity, and hold inside the depravity that otherwise they would wantonly have indulged.

(Institutes 2.7.10)

One of the main reasons that Western societies have not devolved into chaotic, anarchistic societies like that at the time of Noah, is their foundation on biblical law. For all we know, our neighbors by nature may be inclined to injure us and our families and rob our homes, but may be restrained by

  1. the witness (didactic teaching) of the civil law of the land that prohibits these things; and
  2. the bridle laid upon them—the dread of punishment for these unjust, evil acts.

Law is not only didactic; it is also deterrent. To the extent that unbelievers appear to abide by the law of God, do they do so 1) because of natural law; or 2) because of the blessing of biblical law enshrined in civil statutes and the deterrent effect of known punishment? The latter (2) is the more likely explanation.

While these two elements form the other “something” at work that prevents chaos and has preserved our society, nevertheless do most non-Christians, most of the time, pursue law-abiding lives? This is far from established. In fact we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses to lawlessness, not obedience. Consider the following examples:

  1. The need for deterrence and security: Because of theft and violence, security cameras are ubiquitous in our cities. Armored vehicles protect those who move cash around; armed guards protect jewelry stores in suburban malls. Retail stores and businesses of every kind invest thousands of dollars in anti-theft devices. Even library books carry security tags. Plagiarism thrives among students prompting the sale and use of anti-plagiarism computer programs. If the majority of folk are law-abiding citizens, wouldn’t these measures be vastly redundant and indeed a waste of resources?
  2. The fact of abounding lawlessness: The internet is a danger zone for young and old, as unsuspecting people are ensnared into dangerous and sinful behavior, or become victims of deception and seduction. Unjust divorce, same-sex marriage, and unmarried sexual behavior are no longer rarities, but in fact are common. Headlines scream about heinous, unthinkable murders. Less publicized are suicides. And rarely acknowledged by our polite society are the 43 million abortions which have taken place since 1973 when the US enacted abortion legislation more permissive than that of the Soviet Union.
  3. And what of evil on a global scale? Time would fail me to tell of dictators like Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Castro, Stalin, Mao and Hitler–who through lawlessness slaughtered Christians, enslaved their citizens, brainwashed their people, and starved millions mercilessly to empower themselves. Other, more “civilized” societies engaged in unjust warfare, killing civilians and bombing nonmilitary targets. These all live by lawlessness, natural law failing to restrain their evil tendencies.

Hannah Arendt has rightly pointed out the banality of evil: the absence of reflection and judgment about one’s actions can ultimately lead to horrendous crime. Much evil can be done by the non-thinking, uncritical functionary or the neighbor next door. One’s conscience can be seared, and just as dangerously, can be ignored. Man’s knowledge of right and wrong as well as his will to do right have been profoundly affected by the Fall.

14 Responses to “Guest Post: The Civil Law Keeps Kloosterman Safe at Night”

  1. natamllc Says:

    I bow my head in humility and shame as these words are so true:Hannah Arendt has rightly pointed out the banality of evil: the absence of reflection and judgment about one’s actions can ultimately lead to horrendous crime. Much evil can be done by the non-thinking, uncritical functionary or the neighbor next door. One’s conscience can be seared, and just as dangerously, can be ignored. Man’s knowledge of right and wrong as well as his will to do right have been profoundly affected by the Fall.I can lift my head with extraordinary Joy in that these Words are equally Truth:Psa 130:1 A Song of Ascents. Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD! Psa 130:2 O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy! Psa 130:3 If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? Psa 130:4 But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. Psa 130:5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; Psa 130:6 my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. Psa 130:7 O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. Psa 130:8 And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.Luk 24:13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, Luk 24:14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. Luk 24:15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. Luk 24:16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. Luk 24:17 And he said to them, "What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?" And they stood still, looking sad. Luk 24:18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?" Luk 24:19 And he said to them, "What things?" And they said to him, "Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, Luk 24:20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. Luk 24:21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Luk 24:22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, Luk 24:23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Luk 24:24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see." Luk 24:25 And he said to them, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Luk 24:26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" Luk 24:27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

  2. natamllc Says:

    Still not knowing where I will end up after further study of this thread, I have to comment on one part in Dr. VanDrunen's response to what seems to amount to an obvious err in judgment on the part of Prof. Kloosterman's review of the monograph.Here's that part: "….were wrong to defend civil enforcement of religious orthodoxy,…."Here is my comment. That is painful to read!I would only look at two places in the New Testament which underscore, in my view, this blunder, here: Luk 24:52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, Luk 24:53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.Those words can best be understood when you consider this end to a tragedy recorded in the Book of Acts, here:Act 14:19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. Act 14:20 But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.Hopefully one makes the connection here between the group "going back into the very Temple Jesus was excommunicated from", first sorely beaten and then suffered at those sinful hands a crucifixion?Paul is stoned and then after rising up "goes" back into the very city where they stoned him!Hmmmmmmm?What causes "no" fear of human death by the hands of others, those civil authorities, when once the Gospel of the Kingdom's Righteousness is imputed to a soul such as those in those two stories, then? I guess it can be understood better then this way when we read Jesus' Words, here:Joh 16:1 "I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. Joh 16:2 They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. Joh 16:3 And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me.

  3. Randall van der Sterren Says:
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