The Origin of Every Clash That Takes Place Between People

A couple of never-been-bettered passages about the legal side of life from Paul Zahl’s Grace […]

Mockingbird / 1.19.11

A couple of never-been-bettered passages about the legal side of life from Paul Zahl’s Grace in Practice. As close as it gets to Mbird 101:

p. 6: But the law, no matter where it comes from, is always the law heard. I hear ‘you shall’ and ‘you shall not’ as adversarial. This is the key to understanding human psychology and human action. All ideals and all delineations of what is absolutely good are heard and understood as accusatory statements… Say what you will about its idealistic intent, about its being the ultimate ‘design manual’ for men and women, the law is always heard as an attack. I learned this as a child living in a family. My sister might say to me, “How do you like my dress?” and I would answer, “It looks fine.” She would say back, “What’s the matter with it?!” I was mystified. Any judgment, any evaluation – even if it approves and speaks a blessing – will be heard as a negation.

p. 24: Its universality makes the law into a hard engine of human control. The problem here is not the law’s inflexibility, which is right and good. The problem is its second characteristic, its inability to produce the obedience it requires… We instinctively fight the law. We use a thousand arguments to criticize it and flout it.

p. 25: The Law in society is a double message.  It calls for perfection but stimulates rebellion.  It creates the very thing it wants to control.  The law is a dud.  Social reformers have seen this forever.  They have seen terrible ills and have worked tirelessly to correct them.  They have been appalled by injustices and done everything to challenge them.  Yet year after year, one injustice gives way to another.

991p. 28: The principle of the divine demand for perfection upon the human being is reflected concretely in the countless internal and external demands that human beings devise for themselves. In practice, the requirement of perfect submission to the commandments of God is exactly the same as the requirement of perfect submission to the innumerable drives for perfection that drive everyday people’s crippled and crippling lives. The commandment of God that we honor our father and mother is no different in impact, for example, than the commandment of fashion that a woman be beautiful or the commandment of culture that a man be boldly decisive and at the same time utterly tender…

How is this possible? How can Sinai law, with its ennobling demand for personal and social rectitude, be equated with the world of fashion or the world of psycho-sexual politics? But that is my point: they function exactly the same way in human experience. Men become bowed down and paralyzed in fact by demands from the other half of the human race, and women are utterly freighted by the conflicting demands to be a perfect professional and the mother of dazzling children. The weight of these laws is the same as the weight of the sublime moral law. Law, whether biblical and universally stated or contextual and contemporarily phrased, operates in one way. Law reduces its object, the human person, to despair.

p. 34: We could go so far as to say that the law is the origin of every clash that takes place between people in their emotional life.  I hear it time and time again: ‘He is judging me’; ‘If he only knew what I am really like, or where I have really been in my life, he would say ‘forget it, this whole thing is a mistake.’ Ask yourself, what poisoned the well between you and this other person? When did things start to go sour between her and you? At what point did you begin no longer to feel at home with him? I would ask whether the break is not almost always the result of some form of judgment.