Monday, November 7, 2022

The Promise of Natural Law

Continuing with part three of this series, reviewing the conversation between Jordan Peterson (JP) and Peter Kreeft (PK): How to Combat Hedonism

They move on to speak of Job.  Kreeft offers that there is a rebel in us, and it’s a good rebel.  God approves of Job’s rebellion rather than the three friend’s comfort. 

PK: At the end of the book of Job, God says an amazing thing.  He says to the three friends: I burn with anger against you because you have not spoken rightly against me as my servant Job has.  But what they said was absolutely orthodox: God is great, God is good.  Let us thank Him for our food.  Amen

God is love.  This is how many Christians describe God, and because they don’t see lollypops and rainbows everywhere they go this description is why many non-Christians deplore God.  Yes, God is love, but He is many other things as well.  For example, He is also just (necessary if one is truly to love).  He also has left us free to live in this world, with all the joy and sorrow that this can bring.

PK: And Job is accusing God, wishing he could take Him to court.  And God approves Job’s part, rather than the comfort given by the three friends.

JP: At least Job was wrestling honestly with God, as opposed to the naïve advocates of God’s goodness.

Let’s see what the passage says:

Job 42: 7 After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. 8 Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”

Job 42 is the last chapter of the book.  After these verses, there are a few more: the Lord restored Job’s fortunes:

12 And the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning. And he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 yoke of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys. 13 He had also seven sons and three daughters.

Now…fortuitously or purposefully…the next book in the Bible is Psalm.  And Psalm 1 begins:

Blessed is the man

who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,

nor stands in the way of sinners,

nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

but his delight is in the law of the Lord,

and on his law he meditates day and night.

This could just have easily been the closing verses in Job 42.

The story of Job brings me to a comment I made a couple of weeks ago at a VanderKlay video.  In describing natural law, PVK said: “If you do the right things your outcomes in life will be better.”

To which I replied:

No, natural law doesn’t say this – depending on what you mean by your “life.”  If “life” is limited to time before the grave, this is a very shallow understanding of natural law. 

Living according to natural law will hold the world together properly (and improve our liberty), but it doesn’t guarantee any specific outcome to any specific individual. 

From the blurb introducing the video: “The section of 1 Corinthians 5 to 7 are not some random groupings of laws or rules. He is trying to give a vision for transformation to a group that hasn't yet been transformed.”

Transformation.  This is natural law:  what is our purpose?  To be Christ-like (theosis; to be transformed to be like Christ). 

Jesus Christ lived according to the natural law, perfectly.  He did the right things.  The outcome for Him, in this “life” was not so good.  We know this for us today: to do the right things in the face of the evil around us does not guarantee a better outcome for the individual sticking his neck out – at least not in this life.

How do we do this?  Jesus boiled it down for us: Love – love God, love neighbor.  To live for this purpose (theosis) and in this manner (love) is to live in accord with natural law.  The Apostle Paul’s groupings of laws or rules give some detail behind how to love God and love our neighbor, and are logical deductions from our purpose and the means (love) to achieve our purpose. 

The beginning of Romans is a wonderful exposition on the idea of natural law (many parts I won’t copy, because google will kill this blog).  From chapter 1:

19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

And then chapter 2:

13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them

Job did the right things.  One could say he lived according to the natural law ethic.  Yet, for a time, his life certainly wasn’t “better.”  It was horrendously worse.  While he was again later blessed in this life, there was no reason for this to be so.  It could have been in the next part of life – the path of transformation doesn’t take a pause on either side of the dividing line.

Continuing with my comment at PVK’s site:

In other words, for those still living on milk and not meat (the Corinthian church and most of us), the apostle Paul is spelling out for them the details of how to live in accord with the natural law.  But the more like Christ we become, the less we need our food pre-chewed.

Which brings me back to an idea I touched on before: Adam and Eve required training before they were mature enough to eat from the tree.  God gave them one law to begin the training.  They failed.  They took the knowledge of good and evil before they were ready for it.  They were ready only for milk, but they circumvented God and took the meat.


Living in accord with natural law promises us little in this life – it certainly doesn’t guarantee a better life for the individual who lives according to this ethic.  But living in this manner makes society better – even a little, and one person at a time.  Living in this manner, under the power of the cross and resurrection, leads us toward transformation.

And this ethic is required if society is to move one step at a time toward liberty. 


  1. I have been reading your commentaries for 3 years now. this is your best.

  2. Your right that living according to natural law does not guarantee good outcomes in this life. However, the two are linked. Following natural law sets you up for success all other things being equal. Paul makes that point to Timothy below. The concept is also found in many places in the Proverbs.

    1 Timothy 4
    6 In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. 7 But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; 8 for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.

    1. "Following natural law sets you up for success all other things being equal."

      But this is the rub: define "success." And there remains the whole "in this life" issue.

      Inherently living in accord with natural law means living for the benefit of others (love/charity). Jesus turned the definition of success upside down.

    2. I would say success in every way possible. In Proverbs wisdom leads to financial and familial prosperity.

    3. I would say that following natural law, as an individual, opens up the possibility for success. For a society to succeed takes a lot of individuals to follow natural law, whether they individually succeed or not. But, then, as Bionic mentioned, we have to define success to determine whether it has been successfully reached.

      If we only view success as gaining wealth, power, and social status, then a lot of people in today's world are successful even though it is evident they do not adhere to the tenets of natural law.

    4. I agree. It isn't a one for one direct connection.

  3. And of course where you write "An idea I touched on before: ...They were ready only for milk, but they circumvented God and took the meat." you are referencing your excellent September post, where you quote St. Gregory of Nazianzus. Maybe a link to that post would be helpful for readers who encounter this one first?


  4. "The beginning of Romans is a wonderful exposition on the idea of natural law (many parts I won’t copy, because google will kill this blog)."

    Too bad. I suggest people transition away from using platforms that censor along ungodly lines, and cause us to self-censor in accord with their wishes.

  5. “Jesus Christ lived according to the natural law, perfectly.  He did the right things.  The outcome for Him, in this ‘life’ was not so good.”

    (1) Exceptions don’t disprove a rule.  Your line of argumentation is what is known as the fallacy of composition.  Isolated examples don’t overrule general principles (i.e. the principle that obedience brings blessing).

    (2) The Bible says over and over again that obedience brings blessing [Deut. 28:1-14, Ps 34:19, Is 1:19, Ps 91, Eph 6:1, 2 Cor 9:6-11].  The scripture references are abundant.

    (3) Jesus actually considered it a good outcome (“for the joy set before him” - Heb 12:2) and did not regard the suffering he endured as “not so good.”  I doubt many people would argue achieving one’s goal in life (providing it does not harm people) constitutes a bad "outcome." How many came into the kingdom during his lifetime? Did he lack clothing, food, or other necessities of life? He is characterized as joyful in his earthly life on multiple occasions.

    “Job did the right things.”

    No, he didn’t actually.  

    (1) Job 3:25 establishes Job feared the very thing which happened to him.  Fear is sin [Rom 14:23]. 

    (2) Job judged God [Job 38, 42:1-6]. He placed himself as judge over God.

    The outcome of Job’s suffering was increased godly character and material blessing [James 5:11]. Clearly, that is obedience bringing blessing.

    Obedience bringing blessing, as a principle, is not a guarantee of an easy life or a life free from suffering. Yet, the presence of suffering does mean that blessing is not taking place.

    1. Does the fate of the apostles count in your formula, or are these also isolated exceptions? The countless tens of thousands of Martyrs? The innumerable men of goodwill who have been slain for standing in the way of corruption?

      ""Job did the right things." No he didn't."

      At the end of the story, God judged him. I will take His word for it over yours.

    2. "At the end of the story, God judged him. I will take His word for it over yours."

      That is AFTER he repented [Job 42:1-6]. It doesn't get any clearer than Job 38; God condemned Job for presuming to judge God. If "Job did the right things", then there would be no need for Job to repent [Job 42:6]. The fact that he repented means he didn't do the right things.

      "Does the fate of the apostles count in your formula, or are these also isolated exceptions? The countless tens of thousands of Martyrs? The innumerable men of goodwill who have been slain for standing in the way of corruption?"

      Reads like an appeal to emotion with a flourish of hyperbole ("countless", "innumerable").

      Don't forget to add the billions of Christians who don't fall into the above category to the denominator, hence the original point about the fallacy of composition.

      The principle of obedience bringing blessing is foundational in scripture. And, to borrow your words, "I will take His word for it over yours."

      Enjoyed the dialogue.

  6. Love the Natural Law conversation - Imho however, the point of the law to reveal our sin, and our sin separates us from God. It points out to us how we need to act to please our God and to have a relationship with him. Whether or not we benefit from following the law "in life" as the saying goes will not matter as long as our relationship with God is on good ground.- that just may be the point of it - Ted C Columbus Ohio

    1. Ted, I agree. At the same time (and why I dive into the topic and connect it to liberty) is that it is the ethical behavior necessary if the libertarian idea is to develop in society.

  7. There seems to be a lot of animosity towards the idea of an objective reality that, though created by God, operates independently of any acts of will by God - and that therefore acting in accordance with this reality is, in a very substantial sense, acting in accordance to God's will. More specifically, there's a number of commenters claiming that discovery of natural law by Man's mind and senses is a false start, that it is arrogance, that obedience to God's revealed word is the higher, indispensable good.

    With regard to the current state of the Church and the Western world... I think these commenters have it exactly backwards. When rationalism began to take over the world of ideas during the Enlightenment, what did the Church do? Did they rescue their tradition of rational inquiry and conciliation of mind and faith? Did they seek to meet the atheists on the battlefield of ideas, to decisively check their main thrust, confident that truth was on their side, truth and God being the same thing?

    Maybe they did, but the atheists won out anyway. I don't know enough to say. What I *can* say with confidence is that I never got any sense of profound knowledge or wisdom emanating from the Church or churchgoers. Of all the arguments for going to church that I've heard, "it expands the mind and helps make sense of the world and our place in it" was never one of them. I've heard many variations of:
    1) It's good to be part of a community of like-minded people;
    2) Love, hugs, singing, joy, all that touchy-feely stuff;
    3) If God doesn't exist, you're not losing much, but if he does, you get saved;
    4) You should submit to God's authority.

    These are all arguments that appeal to the emotional, the pragmatic, and the obedient. For most of my life I assumed that faith was of interest exclusively to such people. That those who loved truth had to look elsewhere. How surprised I was when I started reading of things such as:
    1) famous libertarians' faith in, or respect for, Christianity;
    2) extremely sensible critiques of the idea of earthly salvation which underpins all Progressivism;
    3) the Church's premier role as patron and preserver of knowledge during the Middle Ages;
    4) the roots of the tradition of free inquiry in Christian theology;
    5) the rational argument for the limitations of human reason;
    6) the logical necessity of certain things beyond the mortal perspective.

    Men of faith were, once upon a time, also men of learning. In fact, they were THE learned men of their time. How far the Church has fallen since then! And yet here are all these people bent on making that hole deeper, even as the likes of Bionic are trying to climb out of it.

    Pooh-pooing the role of rational inquiry and natural law in finding man's proper place in the world is taking Christianity in the direction of Islam. Muslim holy men committed intellectual suicide centuries ago by affirming that, because God's will is supreme, the only thing worth thinking deeply about is how to best serve His will; everything else is pridefulness. Call me simplistic, but that doesn't seem like a good thing to aim for.

    1. Very good, cosmic.

      We have examples of the apostles (certainly Paul, but others) arguing for the reasons of their faith. Paul gives a wonderful exposition on natural law in the opening chapters of Romans.

      As Peter wrote: always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you