Is the Law Primarily Like Thor’s Shock Collar?

07 Nov


In the movie Thor: Ragnarok, a kind of “shock collar” is applied to the movie’s hero, Thor, so that he can be kept in line.

He gets shocked a total of seven times. You can be entertained by watching them all here:

Pastor George Borghardt maintains that the 3rd use of the law, commonly thought of as the law as a guide for the Christian, is like Thor’s collar.

Well, in truth he is talking about his own Thor! – his Jack Russel terrier. Here is how he introduces the video below:

“The Law is good…when it’s used lawfully. But it’s unable to empower anyone to do good works. It works through threat, coercion, punishment, and force to make us behave because it’s unable to work in any other way. Like Thor’s shock collar that compels him to be an obedient dog. Only the Gospel enlivens and empower the faithful to *freely* keep God’s Law.”

In sum, Pastor Borghardt appears to be saying that the 3rd use of the law is really just the 1st use of the law, that is the law as a curb, for Christians. That is, the law curbing our sinful flesh, our sinful nature.

When the 3rd use of the law is applied, it definitely can and will do that. But that is not the only thing that we should think about here.

The Christian, after all, unlike sinful man who needs the first use of the law, also has a new, inner man. Pastor Borghardt, of course, would not deny this, even as he is eager to drive home the point that the concrete Christian can only be internally motivated to do good because of the Gospel alone…

This is most certainly true, even if I would insist that more still needs to be said (which is, in fact, why the article on the 3rd use of the law exists!)

Here is what I hope is a helpful back-and-forth between the good pastor and myself:



“Like Thor’s shock collar that compels him to be an obedient dog.” That is true for us insofar as we are sinners. That was not, however, the way God’s commandments were intended to work on us. Adam and Eve, Luther says, felt no coercion, no threat. Insofar as we are new persons in Christ, this is true of us as well.

Pastor Borghardt:

Right! At the resurrection, no more compelling Law! It was a gift in the Garden. I also believe that the Lord was giving the Law as gift at Sinai. “I brought you out of Egypt, you won’t have any other gods but me.” We should have been like, “Thank God, you alone are our God.” But, we aren’t that way in this life and so, as the SD says, we need the instructions, threats, admonitions, and punishments of the Law to kill our Old Adam so that we can rise to live before God for others. Thanks for watching!


“we aren’t that way in this life and so…” Well, we do begin to be that way in this life by His grace, and this can increasingly become a controlling factor in our life. Even as we never have security in ourselves (only in reliance on Him!) [and] our desires, thoughts, words, and deeds always remain tainted by sin, sin which is covered by the blood of Christ.

Pastor Borghardt:

When I take the shock collar out, Thor runs over and puts his neck down so that I can put his collar on. He wants to please me. It’s still a shock collar… Get better. Be better. It’s okay that you like the collar. It’s still a shock collar. That’s the language of the SD.


Pastor Borghardt, Thank you for the conversation and the fun and creative answer. It is an important conversation!

I think it is even better when the Holy Spirit convicts us and prompts us to use the law to shock one’s self as necessary (even the wisest of men, per Proverbs, are pleased to be corrected, and will even thank you for it). Usually though, for the redeemed, it doesn’t make sense to describe the law primarily for its shock collar capacities, but as a treasured crown, as instruction, to bind to our heads.

Given the believer, and the particular context and circumstances that we are speaking of, the level of shock may vary! However wretched I feel myself to be for all of the wicked desire within (not to mention the thoughts, words and deeds that flow from this) why should I be greatly shocked when Jesus removes all my sin, and I know I can live in thankfulness for this?

In the FC, it says that “if the believing and elect children of God were completely renewed in this life by the indwelling Spirit… they would do of themselves, and altogether voluntarily, without any instruction…” The Formula speaks hypothetically here, and hence the concrete Christian – and not just our old Adam or outer man – will ever be in need of instruction in this life (all of this was not just downloaded to us in our baptism!), for even our Lord learned and grew in wisdom. And unlike Jesus, since sin always remains for us — evidenced by our own deaths! — all of this will occasionally shock us and make us uncomfortable as well….


I’m not convinced by any means that Pastor Borghardt and myself are at odds here, even if we are both choosing to emphasize different parts of the Book of Concord. 

After all, his Thor, because he is loved, wants to love and serve him!

Just like we who are Christians internally want to embrace God’s eternal law! Because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Gal. 2:20).

Eager to see if the [I think helpful] conversation will continue, either on You Tube, here, or beyond!

[UPDATE: Pastor Borghardt commented again — I’ll refrain from sharing my email comments to him on the You Tube comments. Persons wanting to learn more about my concerns about the third use of the law in the LC-MS can see my others posts, but the most important thing I could share would be this message from my pastor, which, thanks be to God, is persistently one of my more popular posts]



Posted by on November 7, 2019 in Uncategorized


3 responses to “Is the Law Primarily Like Thor’s Shock Collar?

  1. elderdxc

    November 7, 2019 at 2:52 pm

    Part of the problem lies, I think, in the mistranslation of Torah. By translating it as “Law” rather than as “Instruction,” we only see it as the basis for punishment (buzz-buzz-buzz).
    To me, 3rd Use of the Law operates more in the realm of instruction. It gives me information and guidance in loving my neighbor as myself.

  2. George Borghardt

    November 9, 2019 at 1:37 am

    Thanks, brother. It was good discussing this with you. I wish every internet discussion could be conducted with as much charity as you gave me. Thank you.

  3. delwyncampbell

    November 11, 2019 at 3:17 pm

    I thought that I made this comment already, but I don’t see it. At any rate, I see the 3rd Use of the Law in line with the original meaning of the Hebrew “Torah,” which is “instruction.” For the Christian, God’s Torah instructs me in the way that I live out God’s great commandments to “love the LORD your God with all of your heart, all of your soul, and all of your mind,” and to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt22:36-38). The following illustration comes from the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament:

    Synonyms used in parallel with a term not only define its semantic field but also illuminate its meaning. As already noted, tôrâ means “instruction” or “teaching,” handed down either orally or in writing. When this tradition is authoritative and binding, tôrâ can take on the character of a law. As a consequence, the most important parallels to tôrâ belong to the semantic field of instruction and the law, especially mišpāṭ(îm), ḥōq (ḥuqqîm)/ḥuqqâ (ḥuqqôṯ), miṣwâ (miṣwôṯ), berîṯ, ʿēḏûṯ, dereḵ, dāḇār (deḇārîm), ʾamārîm, piqqûḏîm, mišmereṯ, mûsār + ḥoḵmâ, and ḥāzôn.
    In the Pentateuch the first three (mišpāṭ, ḥōq, miṣwâ) appear in legal contexts in parallel with tôrâ. In DtrH we also find berîṯ, ʿēḏûṯ, dereḵ, dāḇār, and mišmereṯ. Complete lists appear in Josh. 24:25–26; 1 K. 2:3; 2 K. 17:34, 37. This usage changes little if at all in ChrH, an observation that is quite natural if we recall that the Chronicler was inspired by this sphere. In addition to these terms, the Psalms use ʾamārîm and piqqûḏîm. In the prophets, especially the earlier prophets (Isaiah, Micah, and Jeremiah), dāḇār (deḇārîm) is the commonest parallel, in contrast to Ezekiel, Malachi, and Habakkuk. In addition, wisdom literature, more specifically Proverbs, uses miṣwâ (the most frequent parallel), as well as ʾamārîm and dāḇār (deḇārîm), together with mûsār and ḥokmâ. Finally, we find ḥāzôn in Lam. 2:9 (cf. Ezk. 7:26) and teʿûḏâ in Isa. 8:16, 20.

    5. Types. Östborn’s semantic studies of tôrâ in the OT distinguish five groups who are authorized to give tôrâ: the Deity, the king, priests, sages, and prophets. As mentioned above, there were also persons associated with the king who were concerned with tôrâ. On the other hand, it has been noted that “God does not give תורה except through such functionaries as prophets and priests.” We are therefore left with three groups or circles—priests, prophets, and sages—more or less closely associated with tôrâ, so that we may speak of a priestly tôrâ, a prophetic tôrâ, and a wisdom tôrâ.
    Which of these is the earliest has been the subject of much discussion. Begrich believes that “originally tôrâ was associated only with the priests, and therefore its origin and development must be sought in priestly circles.” He goes on to say that “all the features that nonpriestly tôrâ shares with priestly tôrâ must be understood as deriving from priestly tôrâ and may be cited in discussing its nature.” Östborn, on the contrary, explicitly asserts that “in Israel as elsewhere in the Orient, the earliest instruction was given by the parents, who were the first ‘teachers.’ ”14 Liedke concludes: “תּוֹרָה was initially the instruction given by parents, particularly mothers, to their children in the form of imperatives and vetitives.” It is important to stress what will become clearer in the following discussion: alongside priestly tôrâ there was also a wisdom tôrâ and a prophetic tôrâ.

    F. Garcia-López and Heinz-Josef Fabry, “תּוֹרָה,” ed. G. Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren, trans. David E. Green, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006), 614–615.

    Therefore, to argue that there is, functionally speaking, no difference between the 1st and 3rd Use is to show your ignorance of the root meaning of the Torah and its purpose for the Nation of Israel. It was not given to Israel to provide the pretext for punishment, but to give people who had been enslaved for 400 years, with no control over their lives, the understanding of how to live as a people who are are in control of their lives. To merely limit Torah to “rules” is akin to calling the instruction manual for your new computer the Law of your computer, with its corresponding punishments for violating what it says. The Old Adam needs boundaries and punishments because he has no ability to operate as a free son. The New Man in Christ has been given the Spirit of God Who enables him to bear the fruit of the Spirit, which operates in complete harmony with the Torah.


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