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