Tommy’s mom tells him that if he crosses the street in front of their house he will get a spanking. Tommy is five years old. He probably wouldn’t understand how the pavement would hurt his head if a big car pushed him down, etc. etc. But Tommy knows where his bottom is and he knows what a few swats to it will feel like. Tommy hates that feeling enough to avoid anything associated with it. So mommy connects crossing the street with a spanking and Tommy gets it and is safe.
It’s really quite a brilliant thing, prescriptive law. It can reign in the most immature and undisciplined among us. The power in prescriptive law is its focus on externals. Prescriptive law is all about praise and punishment. Everything is done or not done to either get praise or avoid punishment. And for the simpler or less developed the mind, prescriptive laws can save a lot of heartaches.
Descriptive law is a whole different ball game. Descriptive laws describe reality. Whereas prescriptive laws are set up arbitrarily by someone in power; with emphasis on the someone in power, descriptive laws are statements about what universally is, irrespective of who recalls them. Descriptive laws enlighten us on the nature of reality. They are what we call principles. They never change and thus knowing them makes life easier to navigate.
A grand example of descriptive law is gravity. You’re at the top of a ten story building and your friend has just called to say she’s having her baby and you want to get there as fast as possible. Well the elevator isn’t working and the stairs would take too long, so what do you do? Do you run over to the window and freefall to the sidewalk below? No? But that would probably get you down fastest, and then you’d probably get a ride to the hospital in an ambulance and significantly speed up your trip.
No, you don’t jump out a window because there is this reality, this descriptive law that says something about how objects fall down and down going faster and faster until they thud to a stop. You also know that you’re a relatively big object and that would speed up the fall significantly. No thanks. You are really quite sure you would rather just run the stairs and drive your own car to the birthing center.
Descriptive law is a wonderful thing. It’s what is, no matter what. Instead of being about praise or punishment, external conditions, descriptive law is about joy and pain and the actual, inner state of things. Descriptive law doesn’t need someone in control because the consequences are inherent in the activity. There is nothing arbitrary; it’s cause and effect, and because it’s deeper then externals, the consequences are far more devastating. At five if Tommy runs in front of a car he won’t get it on the bottom, he will die of a concussion.
In a perfect world, every prescriptive law is a sort of dumb-down version of an actual descriptive law. In other words you might get spanked, but there was something far worse that would happen and spanking was just your parents way of keeping you from what could ruin you until you were mature enough to understand. Unfortunately this is hardly the case. There are a million prescriptive laws out there that have no correlation to descriptive laws at all. And here’s where Christianity can become a real place of confusion, and where parents provoke their children into rebellion.
Often our religious practices are birthed out of prescriptive laws made up by some well-meaning mother or father. Yes and we’ve never fully reviewed our lives or how we go about things, so we don’t know how foolish these practices are. Worse yet, sometimes there are prescriptive laws in Christian churches that go dead against a descriptive one. Many operate under the prescriptive law that if you sin, and you confess to it, you will be exposed, weakened, bad stuff can happen. Jesus described it differently. He said that people who sin and confess to it will be forgiven, healed and free to go.
What maybe should go without saying, is the fact that Jesus taught descriptively. There was nothing arbitrary or controlling about what Jesus said. The plain and simple truth was that Jesus taught reality. The wages of sin would be death. Not because Father God was going to spank you or shake you until you stopped breathing, but because sin turns on life like cancer cells turn on the body. In other words inherent in sin is death.
So you jump off that building and you splatter on the pavement and you break into pieces. So is Jesus hitting you over the head with a baseball bat to punish you for jumping? No, of course not. You went against reality and you bit off the consequences. And herein lies the difference between the immature and those mature. One sees their lives driven to gain praise and avoid punishment. The other seeks to live in sync with the universe and thus recognizes the teachings of the Bible as very helpful, to say the least.© 2002 - 2018, AnswersForMe.org. All rights reserved. Click here for content usage information.