Recently, we have been studying Natural Law – the concept that the world has order and purpose with knowable truths inherently written on the hearts of men. One question has been whether ‘Natural Law’ makes any sense outside of God’s divine law and guidance.
Hate, murder, war, and genocide have existed in every era of history. But there has been a general sense throughout much of the world that these things are wrong. Further, individual societies have existed where the vast majority of citizens are in general agreement concerning social mores and the classification of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ behavior. Shared religion has often facilitated that understanding. For centuries, shared Christian religion and the social conscience that accompanied it had generated a theory of ‘natural law’ that assumed an innate moral knowledge.
However, the current social and emotional condition of the United States appears to indicate that either an innate moral law doesn’t exist – or, if it does, without relationship with God, those truths are incomprehensible. After God was pushed out of the public square, all forms of ‘Common sense’ seemed to have left with Him (Meaning, there doesn’t appear to be any “sense people hold in common” anymore – not even a shared understanding that one’s gender is easily confirmed through quick visual assessment – which was a ‘common understanding’ for thousands of years, or a common conception of what constitutes ‘human life’.) Half of America appears to have a completely incompatible world view from the other half.
This brings some to conclude that there never actually was a “standard of ethical conduct” innately known by all human beings. If God’s law is innate to all – our nation wouldn’t be so deeply divided on so many foundational principles.
One classmate, concerned with “inherent racism” versus “divine natural law” and how they both could exist within one person, recently observed, “If natural law is just given, we wouldn’t have to be taught how to behave.” While accusations of racism and a slew of other issues can be debated, it is undeniable a crisis of character exists in America. So…why?
Paul said in Romans that transformation is necessary – a “renewing of one’s mind” before God’s “acceptable and perfect” will can be reflected. St. Augustine called this a “divine connaturality.” Today, people often refer to a “second nature,” which can mean something so habitual it has become spontaneous. BUT…that doesn’t make sense…How can ‘natural law,’ which innately instructs us to be concerned about what is right, true, and good for our neighbor, be a “second nature” that we need to be transformed into?…Isn’t is supposed to be our first, primary nature?
This may be where “sin nature” comes in. Perhaps God wrote his law on the hearts of men, but Adam and Eve chose to corrupt it, making instead ‘sin’ the rawest, first inclination and therefore, ‘first’ nature. This might not be about specific individual decisions – it is always possible to make a good decision – but the general tilt of the world. You can think of it as a tendency to mess up – to look for the easiest or most profitable avenue rather than the path most beneficial to the long term good of one’s neighbor. Racism is only one of a zillion ways people – (of all heritages) – reflect that weakness. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “the natural inclination to virtue is diminished by sin” because indulgence of certain behavior begets similar behavior. Therefore, when man sins, his “good” nature is diminished (Aquinas 1485, Q. 85, a. 1). Consequently, the natural law God wrote in hearts essentially becomes ‘second nature;” a nature that nags conscience but needs repetition to become a stronger habit. A ‘divine connaturality,’ ancient wisdom instructed, is the actions, thoughts, skills and desires we grow into through habitual interaction with the Holy Spirit. It was taught that with God’s help, tapping into God’s law and learning new routines, that honor and virtue grew. …Our inheritance, the natural law of God, was said to have become a type of ‘second nature’ that needed rekindling.
The Good news is that through Jesus Christ, transformation is possible. The Love, Peace, Joy and Promise of Christmas – hope for all.