The opening scene of the new 24 season depicts Jack Bauer before a Senate Panel answering questions as to the legalities of the performance of his job. Bauer is known for breaking the laws to do his job when the law encumbers him from his mission. Just the same, Bauer is never cavalier towards the laws of the land. Such a statement seems contradictory. On the one hand, Bauer will break the law and on the other he upholds it with great passion. The reason he is able to do this is that he understands the reason for the laws are to protect individuals and the nation as a whole. However, when the law ceases to serve the purpose by which it was enacted it becomes an encumbrance and no longer a life giving protection. Thus, Bauer obeying a higher law understands that if he follows the law for the sake of the law the reason of the law is unfulfilled. But if he upholds the reason for the law more than the law itself he can do his job and protect the American people.
This idea is captured in National Treasure when Nicholas Cage’s character dialogs with Justin Bartha’s character standing before the Declaration of Independence in the Rotunda. Cage reads the famous line “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” At that moment, Cage realizes he must steal the Declaration of Independence in order to protect it. He was prepared to break the laws of the land in order to protect the history of the land. While it is debatable whether stealing can ever be a good idea, the point of this illustration is that there is something greater than the law of the land to which people appeal. The Founding Fathers presented the Declaration of Independence to the King of England appealing to a higher law of endowed rights by the Creator which were being usurped by the King giving them grounds to fight for their Independence.
I am reminded of when Jesus healed on the Sabbath and the Pharisees rebuked him for breaking the law of the Sabbath by working. The law, in their mind was about the law in and of itself. Jesus knew the law was there to give life not to take it away. Thus when He encountered a person needing healing he did not hesitate to give life for the law of the Sabbath was not really being broken for it was the Pharisees that misunderstood its purpose. It is so like man to corrupt something meant for good and change it to something causing bondage and legalism. Instead of seeing the laws as life giving protections, they saw them as restraints and rules that must be adhered to for their own sake thinking that by doing so it made them righteous. All throughout Scripture it is illustrated time and again that it is our assurance/faith in God that brings righteousness, not obedience to laws. This is why Jesus explained that love fulfills all of the law. For if one truly grasps what it means to love one another from a place of being filled with the Father’s love one is always life giving by nature and has no need to check a list of laws to guide their behavior.
The Founders understood this principal for they often wrote about the people of America being self-governed according to their faith in God and thereby not needing encumbering laws and legalized morality. Alexis De Tocqueville famously wrote that the strength of America was in her churches and that, America, as it stood then, could never be brought down by outside forces, and that her greatness could only diminish if her goodness found in the hearts of the American people diminished. “American will never cease to be great, unless America ceases to be good,” he wrote. The Founders were resolved that the Bible should never cease being taught in the American schools and they did not give the federal government power over education in America. It was not until the late 50’s and 60’s that all that changed and the federal government entered the school system causing the conflict of church and state.
Bauer stood resolutely before the Senate Panel confidently responding to their questions, his conscious clear for he had time and again protected the nation that now stood against him. However, before the hearing could even get started Bauer was called into action and whisked away by the FBI to enlist his service for his country. As the plot twist, he finds himself once again on the wrong side of the law albeit for the right reasons.