God made an orderly universe governed by laws. He also gave us spiritual laws to guide and protect us. So why does one verse describe the law as powerless?
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Before this awesome creative act of God, nothing physical existed; but by the power of His command, He brought into existence all that we can see in heaven above and earth beneath. This includes the intricate and perfect laws that govern it all.
God stretched out the vast universe, filling it with stars, planets and galaxies. On a clear night we can look up into a sky filled with lights scattered in a complex yet orderly way across this black canopy.
The laws of life
The next verses of this first chapter of Genesis speak of a re-creation or renewal that occurred on and around the earth sometime later. In a matter of just six days, God produced a life-supporting atmosphere, separated the oceans from the land, and created plants, insects, animals, birds and aquatic life.
These new living things did not just live a short time and then die, leaving earth barren once again. God made them capable of reproducing themselves.
“Then God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth’; and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind. And God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:11-12).
Following His creation of the birds and fish, He commanded that they reproduce and fill the earth with their offspring (verses 21-23). Likewise the land creatures were to reproduce themselves as well (verses 24-25).
An orderly world
The apostle Paul wrote that God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33). What we find at the end of Genesis 1 is an orderly world, governed by powerful laws that God set in motion to make it work perfectly.
We have the seasons of the year that provide the weather patterns for planting and harvesting. These seasons are caused by the circuits of the earth around the sun and the tilt of the earth. We have the days to work and nights to rest caused by earth’s rotation on its axis (Genesis 1:14-18).
Many years after this, God reminded the patriarch Job of His eternal power and greatness by challenging him with these questions: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? …
“Or who shut in the sea with doors, when it burst forth and issued from the womb; … when I fixed My limit for it, and set bars and doors; when I said, ‘This far you may come, but no farther, and here your proud waves must stop!’” (Job 38:4-5, 8, 10-11).
There are laws that God created to govern His creation—the law of gravity, of inertia, of thermodynamics—laws unseen, yet constant, reliable day after day, year after year. These laws make life possible, providing the right temperatures that are neither too hot nor too cold and so much more.
“Have you [Job] commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place … ?” (verse 12). We never go to bed at night worrying about whether the sun will come up tomorrow. It is so certain that we sometimes use the expression, “as sure as the rising of tomorrow’s sun.”
The creation teaches us
If we are attentive, God’s creation can teach us about His great power.
“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge” (Psalm 19:1-2).
“Also with moisture He saturates the thick clouds; He scatters His bright clouds. And they swirl about, being turned by His guidance, that they may do whatever He commands them on the face of the whole earth. He causes it to come, whether for correction, or for His land, or for mercy.
“Listen to this, O Job; stand still and consider the wondrous works of God. Do you know when God dispatches them, and causes the light of His cloud to shine? Do you know how the clouds are balanced, those wondrous works of Him who is perfect in knowledge?” (Job 37:11-16).
We take for granted the rain that waters the earth and the sun that warms the soil year after year to make possible the bounty of the earth that satisfies our appetites and feeds all the creatures He made.
“When He made a law for the rain, and a path for the thunderbolt, then He saw wisdom and declared it; He prepared it, indeed, He searched it out” (Job 28:26-27).
Our physical world requires laws to make it work perfectly. For millions of years those laws have functioned smoothly, exercising control over the elements of God’s creation. That power has remained constant, unbroken by man or any other creature.
We sometimes call these the laws of nature, but they are the laws of God that govern all that is in nature.
From the beginning, laws were set in motion that no creature or plant would produce other than “according to its kind.”
In God’s discourse with Job, He alluded to the laws of the gestation periods leading to the birth of their young. “Do you know the time when the wild mountain goats bear young? Or can you mark when the deer gives birth? Can you number the months that they fulfill? Or do you know the time when they bear young? They bow down, they bring forth their young, they deliver their offspring. Their young ones are healthy, they grow strong with grain; they depart and do not return to them” (Job 39:1-4).
These are physical laws, and nothing physical can break them. God can supernaturally suspend them, but in general He does not. For example, He promised, “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease” (Genesis 8:22).
And then there was man
Toward the end of the sixth day God made the pinnacle of His creation, the first man, Adam, and shortly afterwards, a mate for him, Eve.
Just as laws were necessary to keep the creation orderly, so laws were needed to guide human beings in how they live their lives in order to be happy and fulfill their purpose for being brought into existence. Though we were created mortal, God’s goal was to share with us His eternal life.
To force man to live a godly life would make him no more than a robot. The development of character requires that we freely make that choice on our own. So mankind was allowed to make choices. We can make the decision to reject the laws of God, to break them or to keep them.But first He knew He would need to teach us how to live and to create within us righteous character. Otherwise, we would never be happy and would wreak havoc on everyone and everything else.
So God gave humanity a set of laws that would bring us into a relationship with our Maker and ensure love and harmony with others. These are the 10 Commandments, God’s righteous laws! “The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul” (Psalm 19:7).
God made these laws to guide and protect us.
Choosing God’s commands—necessary for godly character
Those laws were given for man. They were intended to be in force for as long as there is human life. Notice Christ’s words in Matthew 5:17-18: “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.”
And again in Matthew 24:35, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.”
Since it was necessary for man to develop the righteous character of God before he could be born into the divine family of God, man must be given the freedom to choose—free will. To force man to live a godly life would make him no more than a robot. The development of character requires that we freely make that choice on our own. So mankind was allowed to make choices. We can make the decision to reject the laws of God, to break them or to keep them.
“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. … I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the LORD your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days” (Deuteronomy 30:15, 19-20).
“The law is powerless”?
In light of God’s powerful physical laws and His wonderful spiritual laws, a verse in the Minor Prophets can seem a little strange. The prophet Habakkuk spoke of a time when God’s people would reject the laws of God. “Therefore the law is powerless, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore perverse judgment proceeds” (Habakkuk 1:4, emphasis added).
Habakkuk was decrying the injustice he saw around him. God’s laws were not being enforced, and people were not choosing to obey.
We can choose whether to worship God or the things our hands have made. We can choose whether to be faithful to our mates, to love or despise another person, to be truthful or not in our dealings with others and so on.
If we choose to submit ourselves to the authority of God’s laws, then we are willingly giving it power over us to transform our minds and improve our lives. If not, then we are rejecting its power and authority to do these things. It has then become powerless to change our lives.
Just as it happened in the days of Noah, so today we live in a time when the majority of humankind has either substituted human traditions or outright rejected the Word of God and His authority over them. The fruit of that is all around us in war and crime and evil.
Choices always bring consequences
However, that is not the end of the matter, for whichever we choose, there are consequences. We may reject His law, but we cannot reject the consequences. God described to Habakkuk the punishment the people would receive for their disobedience (Habakkuk 1:5-10). Rejection of God’s law brings powerful negative consequences!
God promises blessings and ultimately the gift of eternal life for submission to Him and His ways. On the other hand, curses and ultimately eternal death will come to those who choose disobedience. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
Christ described those two choices as two ways of life. One way is called the broad way. It is easier than the opposite way, which Christ called the narrow, more difficult way. Choosing what is right, but more difficult and less popular, is what builds God’s character within us. That righteous character is proof that we love Him more than the things of this world and will faithfully live His way for all eternity. He can be confident in giving us the gift of eternal life and authority in the Kingdom of God.
Is God’s law the authority in your life? Which of the two choices are you following? It has to be one or the other.
There is a glorious future awaiting those who submit themselves to the Creator and fulfill their purpose for being.
For more on this topic, read the article “Is a Relationship With God Possible Without Keeping His Law?”