The Letter Kills but the Spirit Gives Life
by Godfrey Kyazze, Master's Institute for Education • October 5, 2018
Recently the home of one homeschool family in our neighboring country was invaded by government officials who sought to learn from the adults why their children were not in “school.” The parents explained that they are educating their children from home, and went ahead to demonstrate to the officials what it is they do.
The officials, in their own words, were impressed.
The officials went on to examine the children orally. They were blown away by how much learning these little folks were getting at the hands of their own parents who were not “professionally” trained teachers and, of course, not certified by the state department of education.
However, the officials explained to the parents that despite being impressed by what they had seen, these parents had to appear before court to explain themselves officially. A day was given and the family appeared at court.
Deliberations were made, and a number of the officials who visited the home once again expressed their amazement and satisfaction that the children were not in any way deprived of learning. But they concluded that, despite the fact the children were learning, the family had to follow and act according to the letter of the law, that is, they ruled that homeschooling is illegal in this country!
The officials gave the parents until the end of the month to have their children registered in a school.
Missing the Point
What an irony! It is this story and many others of the kind I have pondered lately that led me to Apostle Paul’s statement in his letter to the church in Corinth that “…the letter kills but the spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:4-6).
I have noted that every piece of legislation has two sides to it, like a coin. There is a letter of the law and the spirit of the law. But according to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit through Apostle Paul; if one is taken by itself without considering the other, it can be harmful to the same thing it intended to preserve.
There is no piece of legislation which does not have a spirit that motivates its craft. It is this spirit that forms the essence of the law. Devoid of this essence, the legislation remains mere letters which actually can lead to death. This is so critical for policy makers and especially implementers and enforcers to understand.
Taking the scenario above as an example, it may be true that according to the written laws of the land, children’s education is compulsory. In my country the law says that “basic education is compulsory” and “it is a responsibility of the state and the parents.” There we have the “letter” of the law.
The Heart of the Law
However, one would have to ask, what was the motivation of this piece of legislation? Therein lies the “spirit” of this law. In many cases this calls for one to revisit the context of the framers of the law; what was going on at the time; why did they have to come up with such a piece of legislation; what were they preventing or encouraging? All these questions would help one arrive at the spirit of the law, which is often implicit.
In this case, most Africans at some point realized that there were many children who were deprived of education because of many social, economic and cultural reasons. So logically one would say that the essence of compulsory education in Africa is to ensure that children are learning or educated. It is not so much about where the learning or education takes place, but as long as it is going on.
When law enforcement fails to recognize the spirit of the law, and they simply emphasize the letter of the law, there it ends up “killing” the very thing it intended to preserve. There was no doubt to these visitors who invaded the privacy of this home that the children were being educated—even better than many children in the government institutions. But all they wanted was to enforce the letter.
Healing, not Hurting
Jesus contends with these kinds of law enforcers in the gospel of Luke 13:10-19 as he heals a woman on a Sabbath. According to the letter of the law, this was not supposed to be. In verse 15 Jesus rebukes them and calls them “…hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it?”
I bet Jesus would have no nicer words to law enforcers in my country; most of whom have their own children in international private schools where the curricula taught is not the national compulsory curriculum. Yet they force the rest of the population to drink in the old obsolete system of education in the name of legality.
Many times when I address national policies, especially education, it is not to insist that we must change most of our laws. It is mostly a call on our law enforcement to recognize the spirit of the laws in place.
All laws ought to be motivated by the natural laws of Christ, seeking to promote the spirit of Christ, who always brings liberty. “…where the spirit of the Lord is there is liberty. But wherever the spirit of the Lord is absent, what remains is legalism, which is the spirit of slavish control, subjugation and death.”