Shakespeare’s “Romeo And Juliet” has a line in it that proclaims a
warning about violating a
natural law. Romeo, after killing Juliet’s kinsman who killed Romeo’s
fiend, Mercutio, screams
out, “Oh, I am Fortune’s fool.” He had been the fool of his human nature
by reacting in a very natural way
(that seemed right to him) to the killing of his friend. After all,
Romeo was only a boy. He responded to
a killing with a killing. For his dear friend, Mercutio, Romeo took the
life of his beloved’s kinsman because
he had killed Mercutio. For a killing, he did a killing. Now this is the
way of nature. It seemed right at the
time. But Romeo later realized he had been “fortune’s” (nature and the
way things happened) fool.
This is a demonstration of a natural law in his not pausing to consider what nature naturally prompts, but trusting his nature too far. The play is a demonstration of what happens to those who follow or trust nature over far. This is a lesson of natural law warned against in Proverbs 16:25. “There is a way that seemeth right to a man, but the end thereof are the way of death.” Jesus also spoke on this: warning against answering a slap with a slap. (Matthew 5:39) I don’t see Jesus as literally meaning to turn the other cheek but giving a parable to get you to pause and think about the grace in what you are doing. Do not be a blind follower of what nature prompts you to do. (Nature is not wrong or evil, but it must have limits set upon it.)
Shakespeare is not saying nature is wrong. Consider the deep love of the couple that was right. It was grounded in nature and could have been a redemptive thing between two warring factions. Shakespeare is not demonstrating that nature is wrong, but it can be carried overly far. How many times has it not been said in reasoning together with you that what starts in nature is good but you cannot put on blinders and just follow your nature. Nature must be fulfilled by grace. In the case of Romeo he was fortune’s fool, nature’s fool, for not thinking. He was only a boy, but the tragedy of natural law is it rules everywhere and at all ages. You must consider the law.
This theme is expressed in natural law through folk wisdom: “look before you leap.” Is this warning about natural law not available to every one regardless of creed, race, religion, or class status and formal education? It warns of a universal law that should be obvious to all peoples and that if overlooked, you pay for. There is also a short maxim that expresses for anyone and everyone this universal law that everyone should be aware of and do: Think ahead!
Have you really not enough common grace to see the obvious? There are natural laws of universal application that are obvious to anyone who is not a plain fool. Some of these are moral truths; some are practical truths. But many times moral truths are also practical truths. I am sure, not only from scripture, but from the natural laws operating in life, that moral ruin precedes material ruin. How many businesses have I not seen where immoral business practices ended in bankruptcy of the business?. In governments the rules seem to be morality, communication, shared values and efficiency. Otherwise, the revolution in some kind is on the way. (Present governments take note before things get out of hand. You politicians may wish you had taken note when waiting an electoral or more expressive form of guillotine.)
There is a “karma” in natural law. The Apostle said, “As you sow, so shall you reap.” (Galatians 6:7) This is karma. People talk of the vengeance of God as if it were an awful thing, but the vengeance of God which is not a set up by God, but justice to man on the basis of natural law. Judgment is merely karma set up in natural law to work. We Christians preach the grace of God in Christ which tempers judgment with mercy. (Grace is the unmerited favor and mercy of God.) But to claim grace, you must show grace. You must change to a benevolence in your heart doing to others as you would have them do to you. Judging not, that you be not judged. (Matthew 7:1) But God is not fooled. You can talk creeds forever and you may fool the churches, but God is not fooled. He knows your heart.
If you wish to read on natural law not limited by religion, then I suggest you read Sophocles on “hubris.” Read the Greek tragedians. They explored natural law. If you wish to read about original sin natural to everyone, read Balzac. Balzac show it, but he doesn’t term it. Of course there is “Aesop‘s Fables,” which George Washington had his step grandchildren (who were his children) read. They impart a natural wisdom. I might go on, but good literature often shows natural laws and warnings about them. What can we say of bad literature except it is cheap and actively encourages evil? It offers no insight into natural laws.
I am trying to point out that there is besides religion a Universality of Truths that are often mentioned in religion but not limited to religion. We are not spiritually saved by observance of natural law because it involves no direct relationship with God, but we are immensely enriched by the knowledge of them in getting along with other people. Natural law means by God’s common grace there is a universal foundation of moral awareness, not totally complete, but a great help in getting together peoples of the world from different creeds and countries. That is if we learn to look for natural laws we all share in common and apply them.
You may not believe this, but I can assure you this is true, there are awful people and great sinners dressed up in religious thoughts. I was greatly shocked by this because I came from a pious background. The false shepherds only want to argue about creeds instead of practicing God through Christ.. They are creedal nit pickers. They have a creed to go by yet not any inner religion. They have an external religion for public consumption but not internal faith to support good actions that may be non-conventional. Be warned! There are many wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing out there. (Matthew 7:15) Beware of these. They talk grace, but have not grace, therefore they will be left to their karma. They will be ground in the mills of natural law, and if not now, later. As there is a natural law, there is a natural justice. Sometimes I see it and it amazes me. I turn away my eyes.
Religions are like pyramids. The bottom of the pyramid is built on a foundation of common grace. It is common laws, natural laws, given by common grace. At the top of the pyramids is the special grace of revelation. And I give you notice: full grace, the entire pyramid, is what I advocate. It begins on nature but it ends on grace. It starts on common grace but it is capped by special divine grace.
Many suggest there is no natural law but the good writers, deep writers, philosophers, the better lawyers, some scientists, are right. There is a natural law and are natural laws. Shakespeare, Sophocles, Euripides, Cervantes and others have recognized it and written about it. Those who have seen natural law, know it. Their works witness to it.
The same way some tell me there is no God. Tell it to Jesus, the Apostle, St. Francis, Luther, Albert Schweitzer, Mother Teresa. Those who have had the grace to see, saw it. And their works, sometimes their lives, are testimonies of it. To one who has experienced God, abstract speculation is nothing to the reality of the situation.
Natural law can furnish a common ground for people of diverse religion to work from. There are natural laws that seem widely recognized but they have rarely been classified. The beauty of them is in furnishing a foundation to work on that does not demand a religious orientation to consider moral answers. Religions tend to bog down in representatives of different faiths arguing over whose revelation or what denomination is right. This begs the question of what is to be done about morality. This should not be the way it is, but it is the way things often are.
The world now needs moral action and moral analysis. This may not be able to come out of different religions which tend to waste time on quarreling with each other over which is THE religion. This unfortunately is what creeds are prone to do. We should furnish a morality that shines forth from all faiths in some way but is not dependent on any one faith to be accepted. That is natural law.
Remember natural law will not offer any spiritual intimacy with God that mankind needs to develop fully, and through which man arrives at the truest and highest spiritual answer to things. People will still have to work out their personal spiritual salvation through the faith they are in by a relationship with God.
But recognition of natural law will be the first few needed common steps on a ladder going higher. It will be the first steps in a much needed agreement on a common morality. That morality is out there unclassified and now often unrecognized in natural laws given by the common grace of God The Creator. We need to develop natural law for the sake of beginning moral unity in the world.
Dr. James MacLeod may be contacted through the Neill Macaulay Foundation.