Let me take you back to a point in my life I've dwelt on more and more lately. In the latter years of my high school career — four years that are rapidly shrinking in my rearview mirror — I attended many a football game, despite a lack of interest in sports that has stuck with me to this day. In high school, it's what one does (And there was a girl, but that's beside the point). Game time was of course preceded by the national anthem as it largely had been since the United States began its righteous war against communism. Everyone rose, everyone turned north to face the flag and everything went as you would expect. When in the United States, it's what one does. September 11, 2001, was still fresh in our minds and no one was kneeling on any fields in those days. Yet a strange thought occurred to me. Its echoes are ricocheting of the walls of time and growing gradually louder with each passing day.
Fast forward to the present. A pastor named Paula White is rocking the boat a little bit after attempting to counter the parallels being drawn between the families attempting to enter the United States in search of safety and the biblical accounts of Jesus and his family seeking safety in Egypt (an event often called the Flight to Egypt).
"I think so many people have taken biblical scriptures out of context on this to say stuff like, 'Well, Jesus was a refugee,'" White said in an interview with CBN news. "And, yes he did live in Egypt for three-and-a-half years but it was not illegal. If he had broken the law, then he would have been sinful, and he wouldn't have been our messiah."
Now, a couple of things — I did watch CBN's own video to verify that quote, and I do realize CBN has a very specific market niche it's attempting to fill through the "news" division of its televangelist network. And if this we're some fringe preacher reaching no one with her message, it likely wouldn't matter. But, the reason some are challenging these comments is because White, according to CBN interviewer Erik Rosales, is an "influential faith advisor to President Trump." We hear the phrase "Christian nation" thrown around a lot (almost as much as the phrase "separation of church and state) but that doesn't mean we should begin to equate our country with our God.
As far as White's claims, I think we can debate the merits of comparing a 2,000-plus-year-old empire's immigration policies to today's all we want. That's a debatable point. Rather, my issue is her claim that Jesus would have become sinful, and therefore failed to achieve his entire purpose in life, if he had broken a law. To condense that a bit, she claims obeying laws is the opposite of sin.
And that's an easy mistake to make — I mean God literally gave people 10 laws to follow in the bible so they could argue about whether they should be displayed in U.S. courthouses.
But then you've got verses like Mark 3: 1-6. Jesus actively decides to disregard a law to heal a cripple. The Jewish law prohibited work — beneficial or otherwise — on the Sabbath (Saturday, if you're not familiar). Even when in Roman occupied territory, it's what one did. But Jesus, in fact, challenged the legal experts of the day and asked if it's more lawful to do harm or to do good on a religious day of rest. And after he broke the law, it says those same experts went and planned how to kill him.
With that in mind, statement's like White's back themselves into a corner. Either Jesus was in fact a sinful Messiah, or breaking a law in and of itself is not equivalent to sin. I would say the latter is true. I would say Jesus broke the law to do good.
Or as Andy Griffith once put it to Opie, "Suppose there was a little lake, and their was a sign on it saying, 'No swimming aloud,' Now that's a law. And a law is pretty much the same thing as a rule, ain't that right? Well, now, suppose there was a little boy, and he broke that law and went swimming anyway and started to drown. Now, suppose there was a fellow standing there watching. Now, should he obey the law and let that little boy drown, or should he break the law and save the little boy?"
Spoiler alert: Opie understands what his pa is trying to say.
But life in technicolor is more complicated (that's why the later episodes of The Andy Griffith Show aren't as popular), and we get confused. We have this odd idea that laws and morals are the same thing. We quote scripture that says we should submit to the governing authorities, yet we just finished celebrating the day our founding fathers committed collective treason against their former king.
If you've read this far, you may be wondering when I'll get back to the strange thought from the high school football game. Well, now's your payoff.
As I looked at the flag, my hand was on my heart, but I began to realize there would likely come a day when my God and my country would begin to take differing paths (I now wonder if they were already doing so at the time). I decided then and there that, should it come down to it during my days, I would choose to follow God and not necessarily the law. That's not to say all the laws would go out the window. There's obviously overlap. I'm grateful both God and country oppose things like murder. I'm saying, there are indeed times when emulating Christ means breaking the law to help someone in need or choosing not to enforce the law like he did in John 8:1-11, and I think we need to take stock of that more these days than perhaps ever before.
When following Christ, it's what one does.