James Madison once wisely declared, "If men were angels no government would be necessary." Madison recognized that men are no more than flesh and blood. They are prone to being wrong, selfish, and unwilling to yield. Yes, we are a stubborn breed. And yet, even as fully as we understand this about ourselves, and as deeply as we know it to be true, we still spend so much time trying to be right. This stubbornness is not limited to just our feelings and opinions, but often extends to concepts far more serious. As humans, we view everything through the filter of our own experiences, interpretations, and observations - including our concepts of "justice". This is why it is so important that we establish our source of justice and our standard of righteousness in this world as being in Christ alone, rather than in ourselves.
As Christians, we derive our understanding of justice from God's Word, the Bible. John tells us in I John 1:9 that "God is faithful and just" and will forgive us of our sins. God is a just God, and it is His justice that we must seek to uphold. In fact, one of the reasons for Christ coming to Earth was to "declare justice to the nations" - in other words, to establish to humanity what justice really is. This was prophesied in Isaiah 42 and fulfilled in Matthew 12:18-21.
“Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
In his name the nations will put their hope.”
To highlight this point, I'd like to look at the human institution of slavery. Slavery was once viewed as no sin at all, in fact it obtained worldwide acceptance. However, as time went on, it came to be viewed as sin to the point where, in 1865, the US government adopted an amendment to the Constitution - the 13th amendment - which outlawed slavery. Now slavery was a sin and punishable by law. What was once viewed as "justice" suddenly and unequivocally became "injustice".
A great-great-great uncle of mine, William Porcher DuBose, is an Episcopal theologian who also served as a Chaplain in the Civil War. He grew up in a wealthy Southern family of slaveowners. He saw no evil in slavery, having been raised around it. However, after the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, his eyes were opened to see the evils in the institution. He later wrote of this experience:
"The South received and exercised slavery in good faith and without doubt or question, and, whatever we pronounce it now, it was not a sin at that time to those people. Liable to many abuses and evils, it could also be the nurse of many great and beautiful virtues. There are none of us now who do not sympathize with its extinction as a necessary step in the moral progress of the world. It was natural that we who were in it and of it should be the last to see that, and even be made to see it against our will. Knowing as others could not, and loving the good that was in it, it was not strange that we should be more and longer than others blind to its evils, and unconscious of the judgment which the world was preparing, finally and forever, to pass upon it. Now that the judgment is passed, we join in it. Slavery we say, is a sin, and a sin of which we could not possibly be guilty."
Here was a man who, like all of us, had his sense of justice shaped, to a very large degree, by his life experiences and interpretations of those experiences. And it took, for him, a grizzly and unwelcomed defeat, in every sense of the word, for it to become evident that he was wrong. Perhaps for us - because we are human and fallible, and our scope is incredibly limited - justice becomes this system of "trial and error". We may truly believe that something is pure and righteous, and be vigilant in our efforts to convince others to side with us. And it may be, due to this stubborn and selfish nature we inhabit, that certain actions or institutions are permissible and implemented - and we can actually see, touch, and observe the evil and injustice that we were previously blind to - before we recognize them as "injustice".
This is one of the many reasons that is imperative that we draw close to the Lord. We may be sincere, and sincerely wrong. The only way that we can keep our sense of justice in line with the author of justice is to seek Him for help and guidance. Scripture tells us clearly that God is just and that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to proclaim justice to the nations and bring justice through to victory. In those times when the limitations of your humanity become evident, and you are swimming in a sea of confusion having to do with very real issues, know that you serve a God who is just and who gives us His Spirit to help guide us in all truth. Seek Him and draw close to Him through His Word, through prayer, and through your local body of Christ.
Each week this blog will be updated with a word for the week from my current studies.