Does God Keep His Law?: A Novel Application of C.S. Lewis’ Trilemma

For the last few days I have been engaged in an interesting (to me) debate about logic and definitions, a subject which I take a great deal of interest in.  There is no need to get into the specifics of the personal attacks and slanders that have been involved, but I would like to examine the logical problem at stake in asking questions like “Does God keep His law?” which is a question of the same type as “How many angels fit on the head of a pin?”

C.S. Lewis, popular theologian, beloved author of the Narnia series, and noted Christian philosopher, popularized at least one contribution to the field of informal logic, namely the trilemma.  I have previously discussed (in “C.S. Lewis, Logic, and Fantasy”) the way in which a trilemma is useful for parsing options and leading someone to the proper conclusion without exhausting all of the possibilities.  Today I would like to discuss a way in which the trilemma allows us to avoid the logical fallacy of the false dilemma with regards to an understanding of the relationship of God and His law.

The question of whether God (or anyone else) is subject to a particular law depends first on a question of relevance and jurisdiction.  We cannot merely divide the space of possibilities into obey and disobey, but we must also add a space for N/A (not applicable) if we wish to be logically consistent.  We can do this one of two ways.  Either we can allow for all three options (Does God obey his law:  yes, no, not applicable) or we can divide the question into two (Is God under the jurisdiction of His law (is it relevant):  Yes, no; If yes, does He obey it:  yes, no).  Failing to show relevance means that, no matter what one’s subjective perception of the injustice of God not obeying His own law, no disobedience can be found.

This question, strange as it would seem, is not an uncommon one in our world.  There are many laws in existence, the vast majority of which are inapplicable to any particular person at any particular time, but very relevant to certain activities and certain individuals.  A person does not obey a law that does not apply–the law simply has no jurisdiction.  Let us examine some of the ways in which this is so with a few examples.  The State of Florida (and, to my knowledge all states of the Union) requires professional engineers to oversee the design of buildings that they approve with their seal.  This law only applies if you are a professional engineer, and is a way of ensuring the integrity of building designs.  Likewise, the state of West Virginia allows crossbows to be used in hunting deer for disabled hunters with a proper permit (see http://www.huntersfriend.com/crossbows/crossbow-state-regulations.htm).  Of course, as I am not at present in West Virginia and have not ever hunted at all, nor do I own a crossbow, the law does not apply to me.  It has failed the test of relevance.

What is the point of this sort of discussion?  If we are not clear enough on our definitions, we can ask irrelevant or meaningless questions.  It is said, falsely, of the scholars of the Middle Ages that they ruminated on such meaningless questions as how many angels could fit on the head of a pin.  As it happens, the question is meaningful, if you understand its aim.  As angels exist in a nonphysical dimension they do not take up space, but their attention and focus can only be on one place at a time, meaning that there is no limit to the amount of angels who could “fit” on the head of a pin, or any other space.  The question was meaningful because it dealt with the distinction between extension and attention.  Thoughts do not take up space, but they are limited to one place at a time, for us at least.

The laws of God, being abstracted from His character, do not apply to Him.  God does not worship–He alone is worthy of worship.  He cannot take his name in vain–it is His name to use as He sees fit.  He does not make graven images–but He has made mankind in His own image (Genesis 1:27).  God does not have a Father or Mother, so He cannot honor them.  God does not obey the Sabbath in heaven because there is no sun or moon there to set the cycles of day and month and year on which the Sabbath and Holy Days depend, but He set aside the first Sabbath on earth by resting so (Genesis 2:1-3), because the Sabbath was applicable there.  God is the giver of all life, so He has the right to take it (therefore, He cannot murder), and since all things belong to God, he cannot steal or covet.  Likewise, God cannot lie (Titus 1:2) nor commit adultery.

Now, when we move from God in heaven to Jesus Christ, we see that when Jesus Christ was on this earth he was perfectly obedient to the law, because he was under is jurisdiction while on earth.  The question of relevance and applicability was answered “yes” and so the reality of obedience was present.  We can only obey those laws which are applicable to us, though if we do not disobey those laws which apply to us, we will be considered, in general, “law abiding citizens.”

Therefore, to accuse someone of saying that God breaks His law by saying He does not keep it is guilty of several attacks.  First is the ad hominem attack of “heresy” when the heresy has not been proven.  Second is the fallacy of the false dilemma by failing to account for the fact that there is another option besides “keeping” and “breaking” the law.  Third is the fallacy of relevance by not answering the question of whether the law is relevant to God before judging the person for implying that God breaks the law.  When one is guilty of such flagrant and fundamental logical fallacies, one has no business making public claims, bur rather ought to be quick with an apology and a reading of some basic texts in elementary Christian logic.  I have a few in my library that I’d be willing to loan out or provide the ISBN number for people to purchase for their own libraries.  You know where to find me.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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11 Responses to Does God Keep His Law?: A Novel Application of C.S. Lewis’ Trilemma

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