The law is not enough
One of the reasons I love comic book stories is because I often see something of our own story in them.
Daredevil is a Netflix series based on Matt Murdock, a blind lawyer who dons a mask and uses his heightened senses to fight for justice in a corrupt city and broken criminal justice system.
Stories based on darker anti-heroes like Daredevil are popular these days. This edgier shift began in the 1980s with the Dark Age of comic books, when stories moved from black-and-white morality to the violent gray between right and wrong.
Stories reflecting that Dark Age have grown in popularity in the last decade.
In “The Rise of the Anti-Hero” in Relevant magazine, Jonathan Michael says we are drawn to anti-heroes because a steady stream of 21st-century political, economic and terrorist events has shaken our faith in humanity.
“Brokenness is a part of humanity, and we can more easily relate to the choices that a character makes on a TV show if they are broken too,” he says.
I wouldn’t be surprised if a growing disillusionment with the criminal justice system is also a factor. Like Daredevil’s world, our justice system is far from perfect. People who enforce laws, and even the laws themselves, are often flawed. But even with just laws, people find ways around them to get what they want. Others misuse the system to their advantage or abuse their authority to oppress and hurt others.
Even just laws can’t change our hearts. That echoes a significant truth: The law is not enough.
Paul writes about this in his letter to the Romans. He tells us that even the Mosaic law, which reflects God’s character and will, isn’t enough.
“The law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it,” Paul says, as paraphrased by Eugene Peterson in The Message. The law can tell us how to behave, reveal our sin and even awaken sin in us, but it can’t save us from sin or the mess we are in.
We need something more.
In Jesus, God “took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all,” Paul says, again in Peterson’s paraphrase. “The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that.”
And now, Paul says, what the law code asked for but we couldn’t deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us (Rom. 8:3-4).
We are new creatures, released from the law, which now guides rather than condemns. We are free to serve in the way of the Spirit under the command of love.
And this love, says Douglas Moo in Romans: The NIV Application Commentary, is “an honest, consistent concern for other people that spills over into actions of all kinds” and “puts the focus on the good of the other person and not on the defense of our own rights, dignity or, even perhaps, our very lives.”
And this changes our communities: “The Christian community can become a genuine counterculture that serves as a witness to a world increasingly caught up in violence.”
Stories like Daredevil remind us even good laws aren’t enough to save us from the distorted mess we’re in. But in God’s story we discover that we are delivered to a new life. And by living that life together, we work with God to set right a broken world.
Carmen Andres, a former editor of the Mennonite Brethren magazine Christian Leader, lives in Alexandria, Va.
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