When is it Right to Break the Law?

Posted on February 12, 2016 in Justice

To know what is just, know the One who is just
The founding fathers of the United States declared as a self-evident truth that to secure the inalienable rights God endows upon all people,

Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

The apostle Paul wrote to followers of Jesus in Rome, during the height of the Roman Empire,

Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.

Government authority comes from the consent of the governed. All authority comes from God. Conflict?

While doing my research for my upcoming novel, Perilous Judgment, I acquired a book written by two legal/philosophy professors entitled Is there a Duty to Obey the Law?

One of the authors defends the position that, yes, each citizen has a moral duty to obey the laws of the state as their fair share of the community responsibility to maintain order, safety, and peace.


The dilemma centers on what is just. If you believe in God, and that He is perfectly just, it follows that He would not institute authority that is unjust.


The other author counters that since governments can only function by concentrating enormous power, and this power is not morally unchallengeable, there is no strong moral presumption in favor of obedience or compliance.

Obligated obedience vs. power subject to challenge. Incompatible?

The dilemma centers on what is just. If you believe in God, and that He is perfectly just, it follows that He would not institute authority that is unjust. Yet Paul wrote his words about authority when a brutal, immoral regime ruled the known world. Am I the only one who struggles with that?

In our pluralistic society—and the world in general—there is no universal standard of what is just and unjust.

ConstituionThe lead character in Perilous Judgment, Edward Lamport, is a federal district judge. Article III of the Constitution says he will hold his office “during good Behaviour.” He must, to keep his job, obey the Constitution and the laws enacted by Congress.

In the story, Judge Lamport must make a choice—be faithful to the laws he swore to impartially adjudicate, or disobey some of those laws in order to save his son’s life. He must wrestle, in his own heart and before God, whether the laws in question are just. He must weigh the consequences of his choice not only for himself, but for his family, his community, and the nation.

He must decide whether, in his situation, the demands of love trump the requirements of the law.

Have you ever faced a choice like that? Do you know someone who has?

I’d love to hear from you. Share your comments on Facebook or in the Comments section below this article. Thank you.


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