[caption id="attachment_1829" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Jim Wallace"][/caption]

Australian Christian Lobby's Managing Director Jim Wallace spoke at the opening of the ACT Legal year in Canberra.

Simplicity in a complex world

Address to the ACT Law Service 2011

By Jim Wallace AM

Managing Director ACL

Old Testament Reading: Deut 6: 4-9 and 20-25

New Testament Reading: Matt 22: 34-40

It might surprise you to learn that I feel I stand here as something of a brother at law – if that is the term.

I was required to appear in the Queanbeyan magistrate’s court in defence of my dogs who were defending a wrongful charge of being “dangerous dogs” after being terribly provoked by a neighbour’s alpaca, and one which I might say ended up with little more than emotional scarring – just so you know this has not too unhappy an ending.

The court admirably held its decorum as I presented a psychological report for the first defendant which began “this magnificent young man...” And an equally glowing character reference for the second.

And so, perhaps more due to the sympathy of the magistrate – I’m not sure it was for me or the dogs - I retired from the legal profession with a one hundred percent success rate.

But you must all crave cases so simple and of course almost daily we hear calls for the return to a simpler, less complex and certainly slower moving world, that of course is not about to happen.

Certainly the study of war, which through a 32 year army career I am happy to say gives me much greater authority to comment on than my Queanbeyan legal career, is as much about learning how to clear the clutter and these days the  information overload that characterises the modern battle field, and reduce the complexity of decision making - so as to make the right decisions.

And of course it is the nature of man, and in reality his strength,  to create our own complexity.

Since the beginning of time, men and women have wrestled with the profound issues around their origin, philosophises of life and the spiritual.

And oddly enough – God has an answer to these questions and has through time tried to simplify these otherwise complex issues.

It is important to say though that we are talking here of him having simplified these complex issues, not that he provided simplistic explanations.

Matthew after all told us to love the lord our God with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind – not in the case of the mind to check half or any of it in at the door, as is often charged, when we start to contemplate him.  Or any worldly matters through the prism of a Christian worldview.

And a bevy of very bright Christians throughout history, including our just named Australian of the year, would seem to testify to the fact that intellect is not incompatible with faith or a faith perspective of the things of this world.

In the first century one of the ancient world’s premier venues for philosophical debates was the areopagus in Athens.  Acts 17 tells us that “all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas” - something of a Manuka of its day.

But Paul was invited into and back to this premier intellectual forum of the day to debate people including the stoics and epicureans – in some ways, two groups with similarities to today's humanists, because members of the areopagus had heard him debating the Jews and Greeks and were impressed by the reason he used.

Many were equally impressed with his use of reason as he spoke to them of the simple notion of our being God’s offspring to explain the profound question of man’s relationship, not possible with a pagan god,  but with the omnipotent and omnipresent God of the Jews and Christians.

In the same way in the readings we’ve heard this morning, God gives us very simple and practical tools for forming a worldview to make sense of the complex world we live in and I’d suggest, especially for those looking for guidance in deciding what is just and right.

First he gave ten laws by which to run a nation - just ten.

The reason God gave laws we’re told in Deuteronomy, is “so that it might go well for them and their children.” God doesn’t give us laws because he is some sort of killjoy – he does it because he wants it to go well for us.  He knows that there are consequences of sin and we see that everywhere in our world today, whether it be sexual sin, greed or lack of integrity, and we know that so often the eventual victims, the consequential victims are children.

And God says, if these laws are going to work. If in the complexity of all you do they are to change behaviour and apply across the great range of things you do - they have to be on your heart, they have to be taken into you.

I find this interesting as a former soldier because knowing the commander's intent, so well we say as to be inside his mind, is essential to being able to win through amongst the chaos of a modern battlefield.  To keep your actions consistent with his aim – in this case so that things might go well with us.

God suggests the laws should be a natural part of everyday life, something you discuss naturally with each other as you come and go and then goes on to suggest all types of memory techniques even down to carving them on your door frame or gate, perhaps today we’d say put a sticky note on the shaving mirror or shower recess.

And importantly he says impress them on your children and tell them the stories of God’s goodness to us, and that the reason God wants us to obey them is for our good, so that we can prosper.

We can see in this how important community is to Christians, why it is so important for many Christian schools to maintain a Christian environment from the gardener to the headmaster if religious freedom and conscience are to be protected.  Why so many Christian parents believe, that if their children are to face and survive a complex world, they want them to first have the opportunity to take Gods way of living into their hearts.

Well it seems that ten laws and some simple memory techniques were too simple – at least that’s the nice way to put it with this audience.

The other way is to say it looks like a lawyer got involved; admittedly a priestly lawyer or two and we turned God’s ten laws into the last 20 Chapters of Exodus and the 27 indigestible chapters of Leviticus.  Too hard to memorise now unless you were a professional!

But God still had a way to make this simple.

First of course he sent his son to satisfy the law.  The law was still relevant, but no longer had a hold over us.  In the most profound and yet simple act of the Bible, Christ died for our sin and our salvation, and our ability to see the world through God’s eyes was available through the gift of the spirit as we ask God into our lives.

But still we have to work our way through this complex world every day, we have to make decisions and those in the law have to juggle the very character that God asks Godly government to exhibit – justice and righteousness.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that it was an “expert in the law” – trying to trick him into blaspheming we believe, who asked “which is the greatest commandment?”

And Christ cut through all those 47 chapters in Exodus and Leviticus and even the Ten Commandments and reduced it all to two.

“Love the lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all you mind – the greatest .....and love your neighbour as yourself.

On these two everything else hangs he said – in other words if these are your focus, everything else, no matter how complex, no matter how complicated the world has made it, fall into place.

Love is an incredible simplifying tool.

If you love the two blokes beside you in a fight in Afghanistan and they’re in danger, you charge a machine gun anyway.

If we love our wife, husband and children we seek to please them and remain loyal to them, whatever the complexities or temptations the world throws at us.

If we love God with all our heart and all our soul and our entire mind it makes choosing what is right our desire – whatever the complexity.

And love your neighbour as yourself.

How could there be poverty, if we in the west treated our neighbour as ourselves?  The scale of world poverty is huge, the dynamics within it extremely complex, but it, like so many other problems, will be fixed, if we simply set out to treat our neighbour as ourselves.

Despite justified security considerations, how could we allow the inordinate time we do to resolve asylum claims, if we treated our neighbour as ourselves – surely we would throw resources into the problem to reduce the time in queues and camps, or find workable alternatives.

It’s significant I think to recognise that these concepts of justice and righteousness are expressed in the Old Testament writings by one word – they are really indivisible.

The interrelatedness of them was demonstrated to me recently when a theologian characterised the role of the church in society as “to attack anything that harms our neighbour.”

In modern society our neighbour can be harmed by failures of either righteousness or justice.

Unfortunately I think we in the church are guilty of concentrating on one or the other – either flying off after issues of righteousness, and neglecting justice; or equally putting all our effort into justice while backing away from battles about what’s right.

But we can’t, we must take on what is wrong.

The great second world war military leader Field Marshal Montgomery, put it this way:

“There are in this world things that are true and things that are false; there are ways that are right and ways that are wrong; there are men good and men bad.  And on one side or the other we must take our stand, one or the other we must serve.”

Inside Australia we might substitute ideologies or profit rather than Nazi armies pursuing what’s wrong.

To treat our neighbour as ourselves is a great simplifying test of what our motivation should be in so many areas, and we must apply it comprehensively, not narrowly. We have to respond equally to what is not just and what is not right, if we are to prevent harm to our neighbour as we would to ourselves.


When I consider your profession and the absolutely crucial role it plays in the confidence of people and therefore the civility of society and ultimately the stability of democracy, I have nothing but admiration for your willingness to take it on.

And when I try to put my mind around the weight of evidence and information you must have to deal with in nearly always emotionally charged environments, my respect is enlarged, and why I was given this topic.

But if Christ can reduce the complexity we made of his ten laws to just two: a passion to know what is right by loving God completely and a passion to treat our neighbour as our self, perhaps it should be equally useful to us individually and whatever the challenges of our profession, in this complex world.