Sunday, February 14, 2016

Noah and His Sons—The Nations, Natural Law, and the Rainbow

(first published 2/22/15)

by David Pence

    The traditions that flow from the story of Noah and his sons are crucial to the Christian understanding of the unity of the human species and the political authority of the nations. Noah as the righteous grandfather and his seventy grandsons are considered progenitors of the current 200 nations. All humans have a common ancestor refuting the polygenesis racial theory that humans have many origins. The Tower of Babel showed that God would not allow humans to speak a single language nor organize ourselves as a single nation. He “made from one man every nation  of mankind to live on all the face of the earth having determined their appointed times and boundaries.” “When he separated the sons of man, He set the boundaries of the peoples..”  Men have an obligation to order our different language and ethnic groupings under law and communal authority for the common good in these different bounded communities. The human species is one because of our common origin and destiny but we live out history in the public bonds of accord known as nations. The loyalties of fathers and sons extend beyond kinship groups to these larger God ordained covenants defined by borders and law. This does not mean every border dispute is a theological issue. It does mean that to imagine a world without borders is to imagine a world disobeying the will of God.  

The Jewish tradition defines Seven Noahide Laws as the natural law. All righteous men and primitive societies should obey these laws. When we meet a society that has no sense of them, we can judge they have strayed from a more original sense of justice in their past. This same judgment applies to ourselves. Among intellectuals there is a heavy emphasis on natural law being accessible to human reason-especially the syllogistic reasoning of philosophers. However the religion of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob retains its outdoor wholistic sensibility where the power and the glory of God is apprehended by spiritual faculties other than discursive reasoning. The first two Noahidic natural laws are “Do not deny God” and “Do not blaspheme God.” Maimonides (the greatest rabbi of the last thousand years, who died in Egypt in 1204) insisted, in fact, that men were not following the Noahide law unless they acknowledged it came from above -- and not from man’s reason. He thought men could reason to these laws, but like all the major Asian and Semitic traditions he posited that authority comes from some transcendent order, not man’s intellectual apprehension. In China for instance there is no "founding myth” of the Chinese State but a sense that there was some original order in which men obeyed God and were in harmony followed by a series of wars and dislocations overcome eventually by  a restoration of harmony in conformance with the transcendental order.  
Egyptian statue of Maimonides
The tradition of categorizing the Holy Other--the sacred and the taboo was given to all humans, though it has been lost by different cultures both primitive and modern through the ages. The prohibition of eating live animals distinguished the human meal from the carnivore’s kill. And right after discussing the blood of animals and ordaining a food chain, God showed His profound preference.  "Who so shedeth a man’s blood, his blood by man shall be shed; for in the image of God made He man.”  God does not safeguard life by using the language of human rights as much as establishing a sword to safeguard the Divine Imprint. The culture of life abides in a culture of protection.
The seventh Noahidic law commanded men to establish a state and the rule of law to enforce the commands of the first six laws. There would be no rule of law without a ruler; no community without authority; no keepers of the Law without an enforcer of the law. The Jews saw the necessity of authority as mandated by God and constitutive of the social nature of man. Even apart from Abraham and revelation, there was an ordering of the human species into social bodies of city, tribe, and empire under a king or a khan, a prince or a potentate, an emir or an emperor. This God-centered natural ordering of men into public bodies with prohibitions and taboos against murder and sexual perversion safeguard the interpersonal flourishing of our species. When Christ faced the Roman with the authority to order his execution he did not chant “End the death penalty now!”  He did not “Question authority!” He acknowledged that the authority of the state to execute, embodied in the official of the state, had come from God. Pilate in turn publicly proclaimed that the man he  executed was the King of the Jews.
    The ordering of men (Noah and his sons) into communities of law with just and certain authority to control criminals is a fundamental fact of human nature and our common history.  God promised that he would never destroy the earth by water again. He gave Noah and his sons the order he had given Adam: “To be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” He made this covenant with all living things through the one being who could make public social covenants-- the human father and his sons.  All of men’s attempts to live in distinct communities of law come from our very nature and that ancient command to Noah and his sons. God left a sign of ordered beauty to reflect the ordered loves that are necessary for men to live in peace. Remember God’s plan for properly ordered male unions next time you see a rainbow.

The seven Noahide laws as traditionally enumerated:

1. Do not deny God.
2. Do not blaspheme God.
3. Do not murder.
4. Do not engage in incestuous, adulterous, or homosexual relationships.
5. Do not steal.
6. Do not eat of a live animal.
7. Establish courts/legal system to ensure law and obedience.

No comments:

Post a Comment