Thursday, August 20, 2015

Law of the Instrument

There is a concept called the Law of the Instrument.  You've heard of this idea in the phrase - "If all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail."  Simply put, if you have one "tool" - be it a physical tool, skill, mental approach -- you want to funnel everything through that tool.  Every problem is to be solved that way.

I'm a theologian.  My "tool" is the Word of God.  You could even say I have two tools: Law and Gospel.  Most often, amongst theologians, the debate revolves and centers around how Law and Gospel are used, applied, etc.  Of course there's a debate today about how to preach the Law; of course there's debates about how to apply the Gospel... that's what Theologians ALWAYS do.  Just like good chefs will constantly discuss technique and ingredients (and sometimes disagree).

Yet, what we pastors must remember is this: not everything we come across is first and foremost a theological problem.


No, I mean, really.  Sometimes, with some problems - you don't need to dive right into proclaiming the Law or the Gospel.  There's something else that needs to be done first.

For example, let us say you get the call at two in the morning that the Johnson house is on fire.  Little Billy was playing with matches.  And you get there, and the fire is spreading.  While theologians might debate as to whether Billy should get some Law (dude, what were you thinking playing with matches) or get some law (clearly he knows he's done wrong, he's freaking out - let's tell him he's forgiven)... um... you know, the house - it's burning.  Maybe we should, you know... put it out first.  Maybe the big problem isn't the spiritual component or aspect of what happened, but rather the immediate physical problem.  Like the house on fire.

Because - you know, with all sincerity, sometimes the immediate physical problems need to be addressed first.  Consider Matthew 25:34-40 - "Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’  

Every single one of this topics is an immediate, physical need.  It wasn't excoriate the broken and hungry fellow for his wasteful living that brought financial ruin, nor was it validating his life style choice.  It was tending to the immediate, physical need.

You know - maybe we don't need to rush to condemn (or for the few hypothetical liberal readers I have - maybe we don't need to rush to loudly accept and attempt to validate).  Maybe when we come across the broken and hurting, the tired and hungry, the poor, the really messed up -- maybe we ought to see that they get physical care first.  

Theology is reflective - it's best when there is time to contemplate.  Let the immediate needs be the immediate needs -- and let the theological examination come when things have stabilized and settled down - when the fire is put out, when the bleeding is stopped.

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