Chapter 3 — Obedience to Law
What is obedience to law in everyday practice? Let us study it in its opposite. Let us consider one of the commonest of everyday failures to obey law. When somebody who does not know as much about it as you do says you are wrong; when somebody “knocks” you behind your back; when somebody slyly undermines your standing with the boss; when somebody takes advantage of your kindness, cheats you, robs you, strikes you—why, it is easy to get mad! And yet even a prize fighter knows enough not to get mad. He knows that it is the worst method in the world by which to accomplish the purpose he has in view.
It is the worst method to use to accomplish any purpose whatever. Let us see what it usually accomplishes. I know a man who gets mad when somebody tries to steal the right of way from him when he is driving his car. The other night a man rushed past him, cut in short ahead of him and crowded him out of his rightful place in the traffic. My friend “got mad.” When the traffic opened so that he could, he speeded up, caught up with the other fellow, rushed past him, and cut in Short ahead of him in retaliation, in a “how-do-you-like-it-yourself” spirit. What happened? He turned a little too short, caught the other fellow’s front fender, and crumpled his own nice new rear fender most annoyingly—and expensively. And then he noticed that the other car was a ragged old flivver that could not be damaged much by anything that could be done to it. And he discovered that he had just put a bad mark on his own car as a “reward” for yielding to temper, for pampering his tendency to temper! Also he knew that he had narrowly escaped worse, for that sort of thing is playing with disaster, as we can always see plainly enough afterwards.
When a man gets mad he befogs his judgment. Virtually always he does something foolish, sometimes he does things that seem insane, sometimes he does irretrievable things, tragic, fatal things! What he does always ranges somewhere between silliness and crime. The young man or girl who “talks back” to an employer, the teacher or parent or man or woman who gives rein to white hot passion and says scathing, lacerating, cruel things or deals blows with a fist or a weapon, simply surrenders to an emotion and lets it run his life—usually to the point of shame, sometimes to the point of disgrace, and sometimes—once too often—to murder! That’s the way murders are done—letting passion rule instead of intelligence!
But the worst of it all does not lie in the deed you do when you get mad. It lies in yielding the management of your life to emotion or passion instead of intelligence. I once heard a fine lecture by Norman Angell, a man who thinks so clearly that it has made him famous, in which he said something like this: “Most of the troubles in the world are caused by the fact that men act under the sway of passion rather than of intelligence. Every sort of disagreement, from private quarrel to world-wide war, comes from this tragic vice of men.”
You know history well enough to trace the truth of this. And you can find in the newspapers every day stories enough of the police court and the divorce court and the criminal court to illustrate it amply. And you know your own life well enough to see a dozen examples of it. You can recall a score of cases in which men let go of intelligence and grasped madness when they “got mad”!
And it is always disastrous. Why? Because “love . . . is the fulfillment of the law.” And we are living in a universe where law reigns supreme, simple, quiet, unalterable, undeviating, terrible, beneficent law! Law makes the world go round, and runs the stars quietly, changelessly, beautifully, terribly, gloriously. Law makes your blood circulate and your perspiration flow; makes the ball bound and the volcano erupt; makes the violet bloom and the tide sweep; makes the fire burn and the blizzard freeze; makes the frog leap and the whale spout; makes the thunder startle and the sunshine delight; makes violence destroy and thought create!
Law! Everywhere law! And everywhere good law. Every law you know is a good law. Every law of nature, so-called, works for your good and mine the moment we obey it. There is no such thing as a bad law. What? you ask if it is not a bad law that makes fire burn me when I touch it? No. It’s a good law misused. All law is good law. All law is part of one law, and that one law is the law of good. Sometimes it is called the law of love. But what does love mean? It means good will, that’s all. you will good to the one you love. You cannot express the idea of love any better than that if you try for years.
But then——! Why, if the law of good, the law of love, is the one great law that includes all law, I can see why it is foolish to get mad. I can see why it is madness to get mad. It is going contrary to all law. No matter what my so-called provocation may be, it is just plain insanity to get mad. Why, it is ridiculous to get mad just because somebody else does, to defy the law just because somebody else does. It is just like putting one’s hand on a hot stove because somebody else does. If I am up in an airplane and another passenger jumps out, I should be a plain imbecile if I jumped out too just to prove to him that he is wrong, to force him to admit that he is wrong, to convince him that he is a fool—on the way down.
We may as well make up our mind that we cannot break law. It does not break. If I try to break it, it breaks me. Getting mad is just as bad as jumping out of an airplane, and its results are just as inevitable. It always makes either a fool or a criminal of me.
Now, how did this man Jesus, of whom we hear so much, put it? Why, He saw so plainly the utter folly of getting mad that He said in effect, “Go to the other extreme. Turn the other cheek! Love your enemies! Do good to the chap that tries to injure you! Suppose he does try to injure you and that you do do good to him, it is he that is disobeying the law, not you. He is the fellow that is jumping out of the airplane, not you. He is the one that will suffer, not you.”
I often wonder why we get sentimental over the teachings of Jesus when they are just so much horse sense, yes, thoroughbred horse sense. Do you know, just between you and me, the more I think about the things that this man Jesus of Nazareth said, the deeper grows my respect for Him. Do you know, I used to think that He was an impractical sentimentalist Himself. Then I began to see that some of the things He taught were sound common sense, and I felt like taking my hat off to Him. Now, as I watch the law of love at work in the universe and in my world right here and now, transforming life for me at every touch, and as I remember that this Jesus of Nazareth spent His life and gave His life and took up His life again, all to prove to me that the law of love is the one law and that it works now and here and always, perfectly, why, I want to go on my knees to Him!