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Thursday 11 April 2024

Guarding the Paths of Justice


I have been told many times in the last couple of years that it is not a pastor’s job to worry about unjust laws and that we should just shut up, submit and bear and grin it. Not in exactly those words, but essentially those sentiments. 

This is a wrong position in so many ways, and for so many reasons. It rejects much of the Bible's teachings, and it rejects the grand traditions of the Church's involvement in influencing and transforming nations. The Bible's position is far more in favour of believers doing what they can to enact just laws. For example, Isaiah says this: 

“10 Hear the word of the Lord,
    you rulers of Sodom!
Give ear to the teaching of our God,
    you people of Gomorrah!
11 “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
    says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
    and the fat of well-fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
    or of lambs, or of goats.

12 “When you come to appear before me,
    who has required of you
    this trampling of my courts?
13 Bring no more vain offerings;
    incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—
    I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.
14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts
    my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me;
    I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands,
    I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
    I will not listen;
    your hands are full of blood.
16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
    remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
17     learn to do good;
seek justice,
    correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
    plead the widow's cause” (Isaiah 1:10-17)

This was addressed to the nation of Judah, whom Isaiah compares to Sodom, such was their corruption. And what was it that could set them back on track? “16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17 learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.” Do what is right and challenge oppression.

You’ll also see this in Proverbs 2:1-8,  

My son, if you receive my words

    and treasure up my commandments with you,

making your ear attentive to wisdom

    and inclining your heart to understanding;

yes, if you call out for insight

    and raise your voice for understanding,

if you seek it like silver

    and search for it as for hidden treasures,

then you will understand the fear of the Lord

    and find the knowledge of God.

For the Lord gives wisdom;

    from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;

he stores up sound wisdom for the upright;

    he is a shield to those who walk in integrity,

guarding the paths of justice

    and watching over the way of his saints.”

Look at especially verse 8, “guarding the paths of justice.” On first reading, I thought, well this is what God is doing. He is a shield to those who walk in integrity and he guards the paths of justice, but then I realized it could be read like this: “he is a shield to those who walk in integrity [and] guarding the paths of justice.” Walking in integrity could be seen as synonymous with “guarding the paths of justice, and therefore God is the shield of those who guard the paths of justice, because of their integrity. So which is it?

Does is matter? It can easily be attributed from the passage to be the work of God, or the work of his wise steward, and I think that is the point. We are to reflect our heavenly father and long for and seek for justice. For some reason many Christians have forgotten this, but not all of us have, and we have to remind people more and more of our responsibility to seek justice in our land, because it is literally the godly thing to do, if by godly you mean imitating God or applying his scriptures to our lives.

And for those who wonder where is the New Testament encouragement for this, one could look at many passages, but consider what Romans 13 says,

“1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:1-10).

The clear emphasis in this passage is addressing Christians and telling them to  be law-abiding citizens. But the passages does not just address citizens but rulers as well, and it explicitly says they exist as servants of God for justice, or what is good, “4 for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer.” As Christians we have a responsibility to warn governmental leaders when they are sinning, just like any other person. And this means we need to speak the truth boldly to them when they step outside the purview of God’s ordained role for government ministers and fail to be just. The Church has a long tradition of doing just this, and we should not be too cowardly today to carry on this tradition.



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